The Attempt to Start an Intifada

There is some debate whether or not we are witnessing a new intifada, a new uprising. The reality is that we are definitely witnessing an attempt by Hamas to produce one. Today, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, stated:

We are calling for the strengthening and increasing of the intifada… It is the only path that will lead to liberation.

Past efforts have begun with arming militants on the Temple Mount with rocks, incendiaries, and explosives. During the past few weeks of clashes, Israeli security forces have discovered attempts to arm protesters on the Temple Mount and have even discovered pipe bombs prepared for use there.

Additionally, the rhetoric associated with the last intifada, namely that Israel is trying to take over the Temple Mount, is being used by Palestinian leaders as a way to stir up protests. There is no effort by Israel to change the status-quo of the site, but the Palestinian leadership has been insisting that there is, something that has been done in the past to promote protests against Israel and remains an effective way to do so around the region.

Hamas, severely weakened by the sealing of the Egypt-Gaza border by a hostile Egyptian government, desperately needs Palestinians in the West Bank to engage in an intifada in order to change the dynamic on the ground. There has been little ongoing violent action against Israel and diplomatic channels have failed to produce the necessary pressure on Israel to bring them about.

Furthermore, with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia all essentially working with Israel on the three major issues facing the region (The Syrian Civil War, The Islamic State, and Iran), the Palestinian cause has been largely ignored by those whom the Palestinians desperately need to fight for them in order to make any headway against Israel, much less to ultimately destroy the Jewish state.

Palestinian Pres. Abbas’ recent warnings about the possibility of an intifada have also been attempts to promote one by giving voice and support to those who have been seeking to once again resort to violence. This has put the ball squarely into Hamas’ ready and waiting hands along with those of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant branch of Abbas’ own Fatah party, and Islamic Jihad.

But this is a dangerous game. Pres. Abbas wants to draw the world’s attention to his cause and to demonstrate his ability to stop violence while maintaining control over the West Bank. It is important for Abbas to be able to show that there is a realistic threat of violence in the West Bank for which security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at an extensive level is required and that therefore Israeli concessions to the Palestinians are also necessary.

Thus, violence and protests are essential to Abbas’ cause, but not a full scale intifada which would be difficult to control and dangerous for Abbas and his associates specifically.

The problems that those who want to get a new intifada going face numerous issues:

Gaza based Hamas, which is definitely the most dangerous to Israel of the three organizations at the moment, is not in a good position to help. The Egyptian border is much more tightly controlled now than at any point in time since 1967.

The most likely goal of any current Hamas led attempt at an intifada right now would be the unseating of the Fatah led government in the West Bank rather than accomplishing anything significant against Israel in the long term or to alter Egypt’s defensive posture against Gaza. Pres. Abbas needs to be very careful about how much he allows this violence to strengthen.

Hamas is not Pres. Abbas’ only problem. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a wing of Fatah, which has been largely silent for a number of years may either be ready to have Pres. Abbas and Fatah abandon the solely diplomatic tack of Palestinian efforts in recent years or they too may be emboldened to engage in violence in an attempt to take control of Fatah and with it leadership over the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad will no doubt have been strengthened because of the nuclear and financial agreement with its patron state of Iran. Islamic Jihad could be seeking to aid Hamas or the Al Aqsa Martyrs in efforts to harm Israel. But without a doubt, Iran would prefer to see Hamas, with whom it has worked in the past, take over the leadership of the Palestinian cause.

Thus far, President Abbas’ response to the recent attacks has been to blame Israel and to appear somewhat supportive of both the terrorists and protests. However, should the attacks and protests rage out of control, not only is there a likelihood of Israeli incursions into the West Bank, but of the very destabilization that these militant groups seek in hoping to remove Abbas from power.

This week, Abbas began to realize the danger that he faces from within and has issued calls to his forces to urgently quell protests. While the public explanation is to “deny Israel a pretext for a West Bank crackdown,” the reality is that the greater danger is to his own rule in the West Bank with or without any Israeli incursions. It does not take a genius to realize that the reason for protests is a failure of the current Palestinian leadership in their efforts to overcome Israel and to reclaim, in the least, rule over Jerusalem as well as to end the occupation of the West Bank. Should protests grow, it would be all too easy for them to rapidly turn against the failed leadership of Fatah.

In the meantime, the Palestinian leadership, both Hamas and Fatah, are encouraging violence against Israeli civilians, something which should be condemned in the strongest terms and because of which US and European cooperation and support for the Palestinian leadership should be brought into question.

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Implications of the Iran Deal and US Policy in the ME

With most of the attention focused on specifics contained in the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action JCPOA with Iran, aka the Iran Deal, concerning its nuclear program, it appears that the background of changes evidenced in the relationship between the West and Iran, and especially between the US and Iran, are being missed.

In the negotiations with Iran, the Obama Administration seems to have had three goals, not one:

  1. Prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon while enforcing the ideals of peaceful nuclear energy that are part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
  2. Adapt to the desire of, and increasing pressure from, Europe, Russia, and China to end the sanctions regime against Iran as soon as possible and to try to put the end of those sanctions in their best light as well as to obtain any concessions from Iran that might be possible.
  3. End the isolation–diplomatic, cultural, as well as economic–of Iran from the West and to bring Iran into the family of nations in the hope that doing so would ultimately lead to moderation of Iran’s behavior. This was a part of a larger philosophical change in how America would conduct relations with Muslim nations.

Viewing the negotiations with Iran as if part of the first of these goals, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, has been the only operative goal necessarily leads to a misunderstanding of the situation.

There has been a fundamental shift in American strategic policy toward the Muslim world that has been underway since President Obama took office in 2009, and many of us have expressed strong concerns since it began.

In April of 2009, President Obama delivered a speech in Ankara to the Turkish Parliament. Turkey was the exemplar of what President Obama sought to see throughout Middle East, a democratic Muslim nation. That the Erdogan government has not always, in fact often not, supported Democratic principles through its actions is besides the point. The President’s speech, at the time, seemed to be primarily focused on strengthening America’s relationship with Turkey, which had been frayed during the Bush Administration, but in retrospect it was the initial introduction to the new US regional strategic policy of outreach to the Muslim world.

Then in June of 2009, President Obama spoke in Cairo at Al Azhar University and, building upon his Ankara speech, reinforced the idea that the United States was seeking to change its relationship with Muslims around the world. The initial assumption was that this change included a shift between supporting dictatorial regimes to more democratic ones in Sunni nations, such as Turkey, and put Hosni Mubarak on notice that Egypt needed to change. The immediate impact of this shift was the emboldening and, in many ways, empowering of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt, and along with other Islamist groups as they challenged Sunni dictators.

Within a short time after these speeches, we had Political Islamist revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria with mixed results in each nation, though a large amount of bloodshed in them all. I use the term, “Political Islamist,” to refer to those groups who seek to install Sharia law as the primary law of their nations, superseding secular law, and in most cases also seek the reconfiguration of an Islamic Caliphate ruling all similar nations.

In addition to the revolutions that occurred, often called the “Arab Spring,” the US withdrew its forces from Iraq, leaving a weak Shia controlled government to deal with a growing Sunni extremist opposition that had been suppressed at one time by a dictatorial regime led by Saddam Hussein and then by a strong US presence.

The focus of most western attention in the relationship between the US and Muslims was on the Arab world. Behind the scenes were more changes.

The desire was to change the relationship with Muslims, not just Arab Sunni Muslims. The Shia were always part of the plan.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that outreach to the Shia didn’t begin in 2009. It began in 2003, during the Bush Administration, when a Shia controlled Iraqi government was installed. At a time shortly after Sunni extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda had just killed thousands of Americans, September 11, 2001, the US made a strategic decision not to oppose Shia anti-Sunni activism in Shia dominated nations, especially against anti-American Sunni forces.

It was a priority of the Bush Administration to ensure stability of the Shia government in Iraq, while attempting to limit Iranian influence. President Bush hoped that the Shia government of Iraq would be a pro-American and not a pro-Iranian government that could influence changes in the US-Iran relationship by building a US-Shia Muslim relationship separate from a US-Iran one.

Things changed when President Obama took office. Here is what President Obama promised concerning Iraq in June of 2009 in his Al Azhar University speech in Cairo:

Today, America has a dual responsibility:  to help Iraq forge a better future — and to leave Iraq to Iraqis.  And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people — (applause) — I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources.  Iraq’s sovereignty is its own. And that’s why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August.  That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq’s democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012.  (Applause.)  We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy.  But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

By withdrawing our troops and leaving a significant power vacuum in Iraq, we both abandoned the idea of fully developing a US-Shia Muslim relationship apart from a US-Iran one and allowed the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a.k.a. ISIS.

The President brought into the White House, an entirely new philosophy in regard to foreign policy. This was perhaps best expressed in the President’s September 2009 speech to the United Nations:

It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009 — more than at any point in human history — the interests of nations and peoples are shared…Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.  We have sought — in word and deed — a new era of engagement with the world.  And now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.

America would take a step or more back and try to engage with countries from which we had distanced ourselves. Connected to this was a primary policy change in relation to Muslims expressed in President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech:

America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law.  And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened.  The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

Because the priority of our overall strategic policy was not to support a secure region controlled by pro-American regimes, though we hoped for one and still do, but to absent America from what could appear as meddling or significant influence through military power, we abandoned the peacekeeping role in Iraq and refused to truly take sides in any of the conflicts in the Muslim world even when they were between US allies and US enemies.

The priority of the Obama Administration was to change how America acted in relation to Muslim countries, to work with Muslim regimes as partners, not as a patron. Our new policy was to respect the sovereignty of Muslim majority nations, which in practice meant, to leave them to deal with their problems instead of dealing with them ourselves in our ways.

This virtually ensured that Sunni insurgents would rise to challenge the Shia Iraqi government and that Iran would replace the United States as that government’s primary supporter, creating the situation that President Bush’s foreign policy hoped to avoid, namely an Iranian controlled Iraq.

This also meant tens of thousands of innocent casualties including genocide of the Yazidis, whom the Shia did not choose to defend, or were unable to defend, US allied Kurdish forces facing fierce battles in Iraq, and hundreds of thousands of casualties in Syria, where we chose not to aid our friends or harm our foes. It did not matter whether America’s use of military power would be against Sunni extremists or Shia ones. We were content to back away.

That is except when those extremists were or are a threat to us. Hence, we did use and continue to use military force to target Sunni anti-American extremists.

At first, we only conducted operations against Al Qaeda, including launching an operation to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. We launched strikes against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen and against other leaders in Afghanistan. But we left-alone extremists, both Sunni and Shia, who were targeting those in their own countries or in the region for nations in the region to handle on their own.

Hence, we made no effort to aid anyone in the Syrian civil war. We threatened to act, but did not act, against Assad’s regime. We utterly failed to respond to the rise of the Islamic State, Da”esh, until it’s supporters began acting in Europe and America. We did nothing to involve ourselves in the Yemeni civil war, where Iranian backed Houthi Shia have taken over the country from American allied Sunnis, nor did we involve ourselves in either the initial Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt or the later overthrow of that regime by the pro-American Al Sisi, though for a while we did seem to disapprove of the latter as anti-democratic.

In regard to Iran, our policy appears to attempt to prevent Iran from threatening America through the acquisition of nuclear weapons, but not necessarily to try to prevent it from threatening its neighbors through the use and support of terrorism, insurgency, and proxy movements.

Our policy in regard to Iran changed. President Obama said in his speech to the Turkish Parliament on April 6, 2009, less than three months into his first term in office:

I have made it clear to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the United States seeks engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We want Iran to play its rightful role in the community of nations. Iran is a great civilization. We want them to engage in the economic and political integration that brings prosperity and security. But Iran’s leaders must choose whether they will try to build a weapon or build a better future for their people.

Add to this, what the President said in his 2009 UN speech about Iran’s nuclear program specifically:

I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations.
But if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East — then they must be held accountable.  The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced.  We must insist that the future does not belong to fear.

These words are almost verbatim the President’s commentary on the 2015 Iran Deal and, more specifically, the echo his views about what he accomplished with the deal. The question is whether or not these sentiments are an accurate assessment of the decisions that Iran’s leaders have made or of wishful thinking based upon what the President hopes that his new American approach toward Muslim nations and specifically toward Iran will produce.

No matter which is true, this policy requires the end to sanctions or at least a dramatic weakening of them. In fact, with this policy, the Obama Administration would not see maintaining sanctions against Iran as beneficial to America, even were there no concessions regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

In other words, sanctions relief against Iran is not seen as a concession to Iran, but as a part of a new approach toward Iran.

Coupled with pressure to end sanctions from Europe, Russia, and China, this explains why the Obama Administration appears eager to end nuclear related sanctions, though it suggests that doing so does require action by Iran in regard to its nuclear program. A similar approach, the ending of sanctions, was put into place in regard to Cuba as well, but in that case without any proposed action by Cuba. The Administration believes that the ending of sanctions will positively impact Iran’s behavior.

In this circumstance, the nuclear agreement is both an attempt to halt Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon and, functionally, cover for a desired broader policy change. Rather than the ending of sanctions being a concession made in exchange for Iranian nuclear concessions, the ending of sanctions and an indefinite delay in the Iranian nuclear weapons program were two distinctly separate goals.

Think about this quote from the 2009 Ankhara speech in relation to the 2015 Iran JCPOA:

The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.  In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.

Above all, above all we will demonstrate through actions our commitment to a better future… We want to expand the trade and investment that can bring prosperity for all people. In the months ahead, I will present specific programs to advance these goals. Our focus will be on what we can do, in partnership with people across the Muslim world, to advance our common hopes and our common dreams. And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship to all people.
There’s an old Turkish proverb: “You cannot put out fire with flames.” America knows this. Turkey knows this. There’s some who must be met by force, they will not compromise. But force alone cannot solve our problems, and it is no alternative to extremism. The future must belong to those who create, not those who destroy. That is the future we must work for, and we must work for it together.

You need not look far beyond these statements to understand why the negotiating position of the United States in regard to the Iranian nuclear program and therefore the resulting JCPOA is seen as so problematic by many people. The negotiating position itself is a radical departure from the traditional strategic posture of the United States, one based on the level of threat that Iran’s government poses to the US and its allies. This position is instead based on an understanding that America’s past actions in regard to Iran caused much, if not most, of the West’s current problems with Iran and that it behooves the US and the West to attempt to improve Iran’s financial situation irregardless of its behavior in an attempt to influence average Iranians to advance pro-American policy changes. We are seeking engagement and even a partnership with Iran which the President believes will affect the changes that we seek in Iran.

Furthermore, seeing Iran currently as an ally against those Sunni extremists and terrorists who threaten the United States and its allies, ISIS and Al Qaeda, the US seeks to empower Iran to act more vigorously against them in Iraq and Syria.

The Obama Administration realizes that this will also strengthen Iran’s ability to act against Israel and other American allies in the region and has pledged to stand by America’s allies, but hopes that the new approach to Iran and interaction with Iran will moderate it in the long term, if not the short term.

The idea that the Iranian people will swiftly overthrow their current regime and take their place as a Shia version of Turkey, perceived as a friend of the West, is highly questionable. The substantial financial influx not only will aid Iran in supporting its proxies, especially Hizballah and the Assad regime, but it could strengthen the regime itself, especially in the short term, as its controlled companies will gain influence within the country and increase dependence on the regime. Perhaps, things will change for the better when Khameneii dies, but the opposite could come to pass as well.

Whether or not this new strategic approach to the Middle East works, it is a high risk proposition, especially for America’s allies in the region. Even if the JCPOA will work exactly as the Administration hopes and prevent any advancement of Iran toward the acquisition of a nuclear weapon, the strategic policy shift that I have described will negatively impact the security of our allies in the region in the short term, both through the withdrawal of the threat of significant American military action over conventional military action by Iran, directly or through proxies, and through the resulting necessity of each enemy of Iran having to make up the difference through the acquisition of their own arms. The foreign policy changes since 2009 along with the 2015 JCPOA with Iran and its aftermath will make Israel’s neighborhood a far more dangerous place to live in the short term and present it, along with America’s Sunni allies, with existential challenges.

In the aftermath of this agreement, but moreso through the changes in America’s regional policies, not only will Israel face a stronger Iran and stronger Iranian proxies, it will be surrounded by militarily stronger Arab nations, because they have no choice but to make themselves stronger in the face of the Iranian challenge.

It is absolutely vital to understand that Israel’s relationship with America will become even more essential to its prosperity and security than it is now. No matter where we find ourselves in support or opposition of the Iran Deal, whether we oppose it altogether, want to tweak it, or see it as reasonable or better, no matter whose “experts” we trust, it is for certain the case that those of us who care about Israel must strive to strengthen the US-Israel relationship going forward.

In the meantime, it is important to express concerns about US policy changes in the Middle East and the the Iran Deal specifically, both in regards to potential faults in its provisions and to the absence of provisions addressing Iranian behavior going forward. The consequences of these in combination will be have a profound impact upon the region, especially upon Israel, and upon America.

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Holocaust Imagery and the Iran Deal

I have been thinking of how many friends of mine, including Holocaust survivors, may their memories be for a blessing, would react to the debate concerning the agreement with Iran. I cannot but feel that they would be distressed by what they would be hearing. Much of the debate is simply vile.

Friends, while the Iran Deal poses serious concerns for some of us, it is an attempt to keep the worst weapon out of the hands of the most dangerous nation. The use of Holocaust imagery and references to describe supporters of that agreement are inappropriate its reality and to the their advocacy, much less offensive to the memory of the Holocaust, and do not promote the needed atmosphere of debate.

Good people who care about Israel and Jews can debate the effectiveness of the agreement and can discuss its merits and its failings. While some may be in great fear over the impact of this agreement on Israel and the region, certainly they must also fear what might happen should Iran acquire a nuclear weapon!

Let us not demonize each other. Supporters of this deal are not [insert inappropriate Holocaust imagery here] and opponents who are showing concern about some of its provisions are not “warmongers.”

The Holocaust was the greatest evil the world has yet seen. My friends, it is not 1939. It is 2015. Thankfully, there is a strong and vibrant Jewish state with a great ability to defend itself, something not remotely the case 76 years prior. The well-being of that Jewish state depends significantly on bipartisan support in America and the well-being of that Jewish state has been cited as and is a primary concern of many of those on both sides of the issue at hand in America.

Let us not do an injustice to the memory of the Holocaust–to those who died, to those who survived, to the heroes and martyrs–by evoking those images in this debate among those on both sides who very much wish to avoid another Holocaust.

So, Presidential candidates, if you’re reading this,

It is highly inappropriate, heinous and offensive, to call supporters of the agreement something that seeks to connect them with the Nazis, or portrays opponents of the agreement in the traditional antisemitic depiction of Jews as the promoters of warfare, calling them warmongers!

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What Better Deal? How?

It may well be true that this deal is the best agreement the Obama administration could achieve under the circumstances. However, that is like asking a painter why he has paint on his shoes after painting himself into a corner. He had no choice but to walk on the paint. Much of the circumstances impacting the relatively weak US negotiating position in relation to Iran were created by the administration. Others could have been addressed by previous administrations. For example, the Bush Administration should never have approved the National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 which, against vigorous and correct Israeli intelligence estimates, argued that Iran was not developing Nuclear Weapons Capability. See the article that I wrote in 2010 concerning the “Linkage Theory.”

Here are a few of the ways a better deal could have been achieved and some ways that one still potentially can:

1. To have made the statement, “All options remain on the table” believable. One possibility would have been to use strategic military force against a limited number of targets or even one to demonstrate a real willingness to use additional military force. The election to avoid any use of military force undermined the threat and created a dynamic in which military escalation seemed laughable. You can’t threaten something at the negotiating table only to have your opponent laugh and yell, “BS!”

The likelihood that Iran would have even considered military escalation in response to a limited strategic attack against a military facility is virtually nil. The threat of further attacks would have changed the dynamic of negotiations.

This option is no longer possible for a number of reasons. Such an action now would be taken in a completely different way by everyone involved.

2. The United States could have threatened to dramatically increase military aid to and cooperation with Israel and its Arab allies, making Iran’s strategic situation in relation to them much worse. This BTW, still can be done and now may well need to be done in the aftermath of this agreement.

3. The United States could have threatened to sanction companies whose subsidiaries violated US sanctions. This would have prevented a large percentage of the potential undermining of sanctions.

4. The US could have implemented sanctions against companies that insured any vessels violating US sanctions.

5. The US could have sanctioned banks that worked with any companies dealing with Iran.

Legislation was even introduced that could have produced additional pressure and improved the US negotiating position. See The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 (S. 269).

Rather than enact the provisions of The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, the administration chose to operate without its additional pressure in the hope that the threat of ratcheting up the pressure might help. It appears that the administration’s bargaining position needed to be improved in order to achieve a better deal.

For a detailed analysis of the agreement, please read “Good Deal or Bad Deal with Iran?

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Good Deal or Bad Deal with Iran

Originally posted on We Are For Israel:

There is no doubt that a good agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program and support for anti-American and Anti-Western violence around the world would be ideal for the United States and its allies. At the same time, no deal with Iran would be better than a deal which empowers Iran to significantly advance its harmful influence in the region and become a nuclear weapons possessing nation.

So with that, two major questions need to be addressed.

1. Is the agreed upon deal a good deal?

2. Could a better deal have been achieved?

While there are a number of concerns to be specifically addressed in a discussion of any agreement with Iran, the following is the basic litmus test for a good deal:

Is Iran more dangerous in relation to America and our friends in the region because of the agreement?

A good deal would see an Iran verifiably…

View original 1,892 more words

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Why We Remember – Yom HaShoah

“Zachor!” “Remembrance!” is one of the most important themes in the Jewish tradition. We have just remembered our journey from Egypt, from slavery to freedom. Not long before that, we remembered Amalek and read the story of Esther, stories of persecution. We are constantly urged to remember.

Our tradition doesn’t just believe that “He who forgets history is destined to repeat it.” Instead, our tradition believes that history often repeats and those who forget or ignore the lessons of history, how to cope with threats as they unfold, will not long survive when they do. We have both a justifiably paranoid tradition and a tradition that believes in miracles and preaches hope amid darkness.

We’ve learned too well that people who threaten to do us harm and have the means to do so must be taken at their word. The greatest sin of our age is not indifference to the suffering of others, it is indifference to threats that lead to the preventable suffering of others. It is seeing rail lines on their way to camps and not bombing them. It is watching genocide unfold while hoping that sanity will prevail. Failure to act against those who threaten has time and again led to a byproduct of that failure, to discussions of not “standing idly by” as those threats are put into action. Too often those threats have been made against our people. The nation and people of Israel must constantly be on guard against threats from those capable of carrying them out.

This week, we are to remember the times when threats were made against our people and carried out. We remember the victims, who perished in the flames of hatred. We remember the heroes and survivors. We remember rebels and warriors. We remember the indefatigable neshamot, the unquenchable spirits of our people who endured and survived, and we remember so many stories of sadness and difficulty, of hope and courage.

We strive to make true the words of Professor Yehuda Bauer, “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

That is the meaning of “Never again!”

We are the people who see the best in others and often having trusted in the world to stand up to evil find ourselves disappointed. We are like Rabbi Jacob Rader Marcus, who wrote in 1935 during the Rise of the Nazis, “There is doubt, however, that the fear of widespread pogroms at the present is well-grounded. It is probable that the masses of the Party, if not some of the leaders, original envisaged a program which would wipe out the entire Jewish community. The response of the world to the atrocity reports made it clear, however, that such a policy could never be put into execution.”

We are a people constantly hoping that history will not repeat. We do our best to foster relationships and promote peace where there is strife. Yet we do not stop there, we strive to repair our world and bring about a time when spears may be turned into plowshares, when there will be no need for weapons, for war will have ceased in our world, because people will prize each other’s humanity, each other’s prosperity, each other’s life and blessings.

We are a people gazing at our world today and seeing anti-Semitism once again on the rise, morphing as it always has, into new forms. We see it from university campuses to marching in the streets of Europe.

We are a people who yet trusts in the good of humanity in spite of all we have experienced as a people and we know that no matter how long it storms, the sun will eventually burst forth from the clouds.

We are like Anne Frank, a young woman hiding in an attic during some of the darkest days of our people’s history, saying, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart” and “I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I will be able to carry them out.”

We live in that time. We can make a difference.

We are a people who hid in attics in Amsterdam and fought in the Warsaw ghetto. We made matzah with portions of meager rations saved because maintaining our Jewish traditions sustains our faith and hope. We are a people who are a light in the darkness, who cry out when we see injustice, and who knowing that we cannot alone complete the work of making our world fit our messianic hope, nonetheless refuse to stop trying to accomplish that goal.

We are Jews.

We hope.

We challenge.

We mourn.

We remember.

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Good Deal or Bad Deal with Iran

There is no doubt that a good agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program and support for anti-American and Anti-Western violence around the world would be ideal for the United States and its allies. At the same time, no deal with Iran would be better than a deal which empowers Iran to significantly advance its harmful influence in the region and become a nuclear weapons possessing nation.

So with that, two major questions need to be addressed.

1. Is the agreed upon deal a good deal?

2. Could a better deal have been achieved?

While there are a number of concerns to be specifically addressed in a discussion of any agreement with Iran, the following is the basic litmus test for a good deal:

Is Iran more dangerous in relation to America and our friends in the region because of the agreement?

A good deal would see an Iran verifiably less dangerous in the short and long terms. Not only would Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb be curtailed, but the threat of conventional warfare against American allies, Iran’s support of regional proxies like Hizballah, and its support for terrorism would all be reduced prior to the lifting of sanctions that would allow it billions of additional dollars to advance those activities.

A very bad deal would see Iran more dangerous in the short term and long term with most alternatives to a good deal being some degree of “bad,” not meeting the essential requirements of a good deal.

We should be talking about both the short term, a year from now, or a decade from now, and about the long term, two or three decades from now. Without a significant change in the nature of the regime governing Iran and its policies toward the US and our allies, an agreement in the short term could easily shepherd the danger down the road or even allow it to flourish unchecked.

The primary purpose of the negotiations has been to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. There seems to be significant disagreement as to whether or not Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons has been cut off to the extent that the United States and its allies would like it to be. It may well be that Iran’s “breakout time,” the time that it would take to create a nuclear weapon, has been extended. That would be good if so.

If there are sunsets to provisions instituted to prevent Iran from advancing with processes necessary to create a nuclear weapon, then obviously at the point that those sunsets occur, Iran could without restraint move forward. Of grave concern then are any provisions that simply end based upon dates rather than behaviors. A good deal would have provisions kept in force until the threat changes, not simply until an anniversary date is reached.

Yet, there are very reasonable concerns about the nature of the monitoring regime to ensure that those provisions are kept. The absence of snap inspections or even anything close to snap inspections could enable Iran to violate terms of the agreement, especially in the realm of research and development, which could be done on a smaller scale and therefore much more easily in a clandestine manner. Snap inspections are necessary to prevent Iran from hiding violations and then simply removing the evidence before inspectors may visit a site.

That residual radiation would be present would allow for some major violations to be discovered, whenever inspectors arrive, but other violations that do not involve radioactive materials might be impossible to discover without snap inspections.

That the agreement allows Iran 24 days to respond to a request for a site visit and then allows for appeals would seem to provide more than ample opportunity for mischief. President Obama has argued, however, that Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb will indeed be “cut off.” Without snap inspections, one could argue that the best that could be said is that they “might be cut off” or “hopefully will be cut off” as long as Iran plays by the rules of the agreement.

Now, let us for a moment simply assume that Iran, which has acted in violation of previous nuclear commitments in the past, follows the rules in the agreement, and neither seeks to evade the restrictions imposed in the short term or even pursues the acquisition of nuclear weapons in the long term, what of Iran’s non-nuclear related behavior?

The agreement reached with Iran appears to have addressed its nuclear program as if it were in a silo, pardon the pun. As David Horovitz of Times of Israel pointed out, many issues that we might consider vitally important were not addressed at all in the agreement and others were not settled in such a way as to meet the requirements of a “good deal.” See also Robert Satloff’s excellent summation of concerns regarding the deal for the Washington Institute in this regard.

For me, the biggest issues center around Iran’s behavior. Why are we allowing a nation which has faced sanctions because of its bad behavior beyond its nuclear program, including its support for terrorism and insurgency against US allies and its suppression of democracy, to simply create a nuclear weapons program and then offer to slow the program in exchange for the removal of sanctions placed upon it because of its behavior?

The idea that rogue regimes can invest in nuclear weapons programs and then concede them so as to remove sanctions levied for their other bad behaviors is at best troubling and will encourage similar behaviors by other nations.

Furthermore, what happens if Iran’s behavior necessitates the imposition of additional sanctions? The agreement appears to make punishing Iran for that behavior all but impossible. On page 3 of the Iran agreement, we find in section viii.:

The E3/EU +3 will refrain from imposing discriminatory regulatory and procedural requirements in lieu of the sanctions and restrictive measures covered by this JCPOA.

Should Iran behave badly in the region against the US or its allies, if my understanding of this statement is correct, the US could not unilaterally reimpose sanctions similar to the existing ones or impose new ones on Iran because of its behavior without ending the agreement altogether. This is all the more problematic considering that President Obama himself said in regard to the agreement just yesterday that the US hopes that Iran will change its “nefarious” behavior “but we’re not counting on it.”

President Obama said yesterday that:

My hope is that, building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave. But we’re not counting on it. So this deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior.

Why are we not demanding it? Why are we not making this agreement contingent upon it? We are going to “hope” to “have conversations?”

Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote in regard to the aforementioned behavior by Iran that it is inconceivable that the financial windfall received by Iran will not swiftly benefit the activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and other Iranian proxies, including Hizballah. This deal will significantly increase Iran’s ability to threaten Israel and America’s Sunni Muslim allies.

It would appear then that this deal may delay the production by Iran of a nuclear weapon, but in both the short and long terms it will make Iran far stronger and more dangerous. In other words, the specific impact of this agreement on the nuclear issue does not make the overall impact good. This deal could, in fact, have a catastrophic impact upon America’s allies in the Middle East in both the short term and long terms, as well as having a substantially negative impact on America’s own strategic position in the long term, making this agreement appear to be a very bad one.

It is no wonder that not only Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, but the opposition leader, Buji Herzog, as well have condemned this agreement. Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Chief of Intelligence, said that the deal will, “wreak havoc in the Middle East.” If you’re wondering what kind of impact this deal will have on US relations with its Sunni Arab allies, consider this statement by Bandar:

I am convinced more than any other time that my good friend, the magnificent old fox Henry Kissinger, was correct when he said ‘America’s enemies should fear America, but America’s friends should fear America more’. People in my region now are relying on God’s will, and consolidating their local capabilities and analysis with everybody else except our oldest and most powerful ally.


Regarding snap-back sanctions, as Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute noted, this agreement seems to annihilate the sanctions regime currently in place, cripple the possibility of snap-back sanctions, and potentially prevent the imposition of new sanctions even by the US Congress. If the last point is true, I believe that this agreement should actually be considered a multi-lateral treaty subject to Congressional approval as such. That is a point that I believe should be addressed by Congress as it considers this agreement because it changes the nature of what Congress can and must do. If this is a treaty, then Congress must approve it for it to be valid, rather than voting to invalidate it. That is a big difference.

Finally, there has been a very ugly debate concerning alternatives to this agreement. David Horovitz explained the situation in a scathing rejoinder today that is well worth reading. President Obama has argued that the alternative to this agreement is war and that Israel desires that there be no agreement; i.e. that Israel wants war. Horovitz proves clearly that both of these statements are untrue in his article, “No, we don’t want war. Yes, there was a better deal.”

Horovitz concludes his article with harsh words:

That, of course, is the tragedy of this unconscionable, wrongheaded agreement. It is an act of unwarranted accommodation with a dark, dangerous and unreformable regime, and it is going to cost the free world dearly. To see ourselves being misrepresented and unjustly criticized by disingenuous leaders as this tragedy plays out, while we in Israel brace to battle against the repercussions of their insistent incompetence, is a contemptible case of adding insult to looming injury.

It would appear that should the US move forward with this agreement, substantial additional military assistance will be required for Israel and America’s Sunni Arab allies who will all come under increased threat from an emboldened and empowered Iranian regime. Far from bringing peace to the region, this agreement almost ensures increased violence. With the failure of the United States to even bluff the threat of military action so as to influence negotiations in a better direction, America’s allies in the region are feeling abandoned by their best friend to face the very enemy that they see this agreement strengthening substantially and they are irate about it.

No one wants war. 

Let me state that again to be clear. No one wants war.

Those who are arguing that opponents of THIS DEAL want war are attempting to stifle the discussion of the merits of THIS agreement.

If indeed this is the best achievable agreement under the circumstances, it is because we have failed to change the dynamics of the negotiations, diplomatically, economically, and militarily, in order to enable a better one to be possible. Instead, we may well have been left with a choice between being beaten at the negotiating table or faced with options, military or otherwise, in which everyone knew we had no willingness or ability to engage. It is difficult to bluff when your cards are face up on the table.

A better deal could potentially have been achieved and could possibly still be achieved by changing those cards, which is what critics of US policy in the region have been stating and what opponents of this deal are arguing. Without doing that, we are left with an agreement that will result in the greatest threat to our interests and the security of our allies in the Middle East being substantially better equipped to do harm than they have been. No one should be cheering this agreement.

One good thing may occur because of it, however, is that cooperation between Israel and Sunni Arab nations threatened by Iran will become essential.

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Apologies and The Arab Community

The President of Israel doesn’t have a whole lot of responsibilities, but one of them, when the job is done well and the holder of the office is well respected, has been to be a sort of moral and ethical conscience. In that light, President Rivlin’s suggestion that there is no place for such remarks in elections and the suggestions coming forth that Benjamin Netanyahu apologize to the Arab community for his racial and ethnic based comments should be appreciated and followed.

Even if PM Netanyahu meant his statement to be a reference to the voters for the opposition party, the Joint Arab List, said during the heat of election day as a way to urge his voters to turn out, many have taken it as a reference to all Arab voters and as encouragement for those harboring racial animosity to vote for him as a counter to them. Following a very ugly election, such an apology and sincere attempts to reach out to the Arab community in Israel are essential.

Democracies depend not just on the ability of every citizen to vote but on the understanding that elected representatives represent not just those citizens who voted in their favor, but that they represent every citizen. As members of a small minority community in America as are our brethren in other nations, we know well the importance of that principle and are very thankful for the consideration and respect of those who are not members of the Jewish community and may well not have been our choice to be our representatives. We know what it means to be a stranger.

The Jewish tradition teaches as two of its highest principles, “Remember that you were a stranger in Egypt” and “Love thy neighbor.” Those principles should be the basis for the post-election healing that must happen in Israel.

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The Aftermath: What Now?

Now, that Israeli elections are over, it’s time to consider what happened and what the impact of it all will be going forward. Some things will be impacted fairly substantially, others not so much. First, what actually happened?

Let’s compare the 2013 Elections with yesterday’s and look.

In 2013, there was a joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list on the political right that received 31 seats. In this election, the two parties combined received 36 seats.

In 2013, left leaning Labor (15) and center-left Hatnua (6) had 21 seats combined. In this election, running together, they received 24.

Yair Lapid’s center-left Yesh Atid party lost eight seats from 19 to 11, making it the biggest loser in this election.

The political further right also suffered. Jewish Home lost 4 seats from 12 to 8. Shas lost 4 seats from 11 to 7. UTJ lost one.

The Joint Arab List went from a combined 11 seats to a combined 13 seats, taking one from Meretz, the leftist party for which many Arabs have voted in the past. Meretz ended up with 5 seats.

The creation and rise of Kulanu adds an issue no one is addressing yet. Some see Kulanu as simply a centrist party, with Yesh Atid and Hatnua from 2013 being replaced by Yesh Atid and Kulanu in 2015. However, that misses an important point. Kulanu is an offshoot of Likud.

Functionally, 2013’s Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu’s 31 seats actually swelled to 46 in this election if you include Kulanu as being part of that 2013 Likud led group and adding its 10 seats. That is massive growth in two years.

What happened?

Most of the discussion concerning the Israeli elections in the United States has been about Iran and Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Neither were substantial issues in the election. Why? As Buji Herzog himself said, “There is no daylight between his position and Bibi’s on Iran.” The left and the right are of one mind on Iran. That this position is one in strong opposition to the perceived negotiating position and strategy of the Obama Administration is something that would have created friction between either man as Israeli Prime Minister and the Obama Administration. Herzog would only have begun his term with less animosity. However, Herzog would also have begun his term having been given less trust to stand up to the Obama Administration on that issue.

Netanyahu’s willingness to go to Washington and speak truth to power may have influenced some Israeli voters, even as it upset many American ones. I realize that polls did not strongly show that to be the case, but considering that the polls also completely misread the Israeli election, I wouldn’t put much trust in their having read that particular issue accurately either.

On the peace process, Netanyahu’s is being quoted as if he would actively combat the creation of a Palestinian state of some kind at some point in the future under any circumstances. In an interview with NRG, Netanyahu was asked about the creation of a Palestinian state. His response was:

I think anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state and to evacuate territory is giving radical Islam a staging ground against the State of Israel. This is the reality that has been created here in recent years. Anyone who ignores it has his head in the sand.

When asked to clarify his answer, “If you are a prime minister, there will be no Palestinian state?” Netanyahu’s response was, “Indeed.”

Netanyahu also stated that his party will continue to advocate for a united Jerusalem and that the creation of Har Homa in 1996 was at least partly a way to keep Bethlehem from encroaching upon Jerusalem. That all said, he also said something being completely ignored by those interested in two states, namely that a strong Likud government is necessary to withstand international pressure to divide Jerusalem and return to the 1967 borders. What is being missed?

Netanyahu could have only said that it is necessary to avoid the creation of a Palestinian state. Clearly implied here is a willingness to talk so long as dividing Jerusalem and following the exact 1967 borders are not the end game.

Additionally, Netanyahu has elsewhere argued that Israel must control the Jordanian border for an extended period. Many have said that this means there will be no fully independent Palestinian state without Israeli border control for some time, if ever. However, that doesn’t mean that negotiations for a vastly improved situation in the West Bank are not possible. While this isn’t a perspective in line with the Obama Administration’s or the Palestinian leadership’s, there is no doubt that there is substantial wiggle room here. The door is still open for peace negotiations to which Israel will almost certainly agree, regardless of Netanyahu’s statement to NRG, when proposed by the US following the establishment of a coalition, avoiding the threat of a UN Security Council resolution and the absence of a US veto.

In the meantime, in what appears to have been an attempt to pull votes from the political right in order to strengthen the Likud, Netanyahu has opened himself up, along with the about to be formed Israeli coalition, to be accused of opposing any peace agreement with the Palestinians. In the short term, there is a great deal of concern and criticism.

While it is most likely that the coalition that Netanyahu will lead will be a heavily right-leaning coalition of Likud, Kulanu, Jewish Home and Israel Beiteinu, along with the Hareidim, Shas and UTJ, there is a possible alternative. Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid’s centrist party, might find it beneficial to once again join the coalition. This could keep UTJ and Shas from being a part of the coaltion and from undoing Yesh Atid’s prized legislation, the Draft Law. Otherwise, the Hareidim will no doubt insist upon concessions that will see the agreement unravel and remove penalties for yeshiva students who do not serve.

Is Yesh Atid willing to sit in a Netanyahu led coalition again, something which would make it a center-right coalition and not a right-religious one? Some coalition related compromises will be in the air.

Now, regarding the Arab community: PM Netanyahu made some references to “Arab voters are coming out to vote in droves” which are being taken as overtly racist by many and are certainly problematic. It is reasonable for Netanyahu to apologize and argue that he misspoke, simply meaning that the opposition, including a party whose supporters are Arabs by definition (the Joint Arab List), was getting its voters to the polls and his own voters better get out to vote as well. However, I doubt he will even deign to address the issue and so will continue to be criticized for what American ears generally heard as racist.

The day after, the White House and State Department were offering their concerns about Netanyahu’s statements about both a future Palestinian state and Arab voters. They have an obligation to do so and to seek clarification on both counts. But when the dust settles, the reality is that Benjamin Netanyahu will once again be the democratically elected leader of one of America’s best friends and strongest allies.

Yesterday, Sec. State Kerry already reached out to congratulate PM Netanyahu on his election victory. The President most likely will when a coalition is formed and Netanyahu officially becomes Prime Minister again, though he certainly won’t be enthusiastic about it.

Israel will continue to be seen as the major American ally in the region, the only one with Strategic Partner status, strongly supported by the vast majority of Congress and, grudgingly perhaps so long as Netanyahu is the Prime Minister, by this White House. Iran will continue to be a major threat to Israel’s security and that of its neighbors. Concern about a potential “bad deal” being achieved will strengthen until proven founded or unfounded. Threats from terrorism both from within the Palestinian territories and from beyond Israel’s borders will remain a pressing issue. Israel will continue to strategically partner with Jordan and Egypt. Its tech sector will continue to grow. Its housing crisis will remain problematic. The Europeans and the UN will continue to heap scorn on Israel and the Cubs still will not have won a World Series since 1908.

While there are perhaps some new things going on here and there. For the most part, “Ein chadash tachat hashemesh.” There is nothing truly new under the sun. Benjamin Netanyahu will begin his fourth term as Prime Minister of Israel and the Israeli and American political left are struggling to understand why.

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The Elections are Over! But who will govern?

From Rabbi Micky Boyden:

On Tuesday Israelis will go to the polls and at precisely 10 p.m. people will be glued to their television screens as the various TV channels publish their exit poll results. If previous experience is anything to go by, there will be a large degree of unanimity between them and they will reflect fairly accurately the final, official results that will only be known on Thursday.

However, whereas in many democracies election results represent the end of the race, in Israel they only harbinger the beginning.  Since neither the Likkud nor the “Zionist Union” headed by Yitzhak Herzog are likely to win much more than 20% of the Knesset seats, Israel’s next government will inevitably be determined not by the electorate but as a result of horse trading between the various parties.

Although the polls predict a victory for the “Zionist Union”, Herzog will be hard put to form a center/left government.  Were he to include Meretz, the religious parties would be reluctant to join him. Those same parties might well be unprepared to sit with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which is committed to introducing legislation to force the charedim to undertake military or national service.

A new jack in the pack is the United Arab List, which is predicted to become the third largest party in the forthcoming Knesset with an anticipated 13 Knesset members according to a reliable poll published at the end of last week. (

In contrast with Herzog, Netanyahu would have a much easier time in putting together a government. However, his government would be a right-wing/religious party coalition. Given what is happening on the international stage and the prospect of a deal with Iran on its nuclear program, he might well prefer to reach an agreement with Herzog’s “Zionist Union” that would include rotating the premiership between the two of them. Today’s announcement that Tzipi Livni would be prepared to forego her right to rotate the premiership with Herzog should that become necessary in order to form a national unity government points in that direction.

Therefore, irrespective of what happens at the polls tomorrow, we are likely to be faced with either a right-wing/religious party government coalition, or a unity government in which Herzog and Netanyahu would be the major players.

Should the latter be the case, the United Arab List could well be set for the first time in Israel’s history to become the largest opposition party in the Knesset and the Arab-Jewish Hadash party’s leader, Ayman Odeh, could end up being the Leader of the Opposition. Now that would be a turn-up for the books!

Rabbi Michael (Micky) Boyden

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