The Jubilee Haggadah – A Travesty of Truth

An organization calling itself SISO (Save Israel Stop the Occupation) claims on its website to be “a new initiative of prominent Israeli individuals and organizations who have joined with Jewish leaders from around the world in a sense of urgency about Israel’s future.”

In order to “enlighten” Diaspora Jews as to Israel’s plight it has just published The Jubilee Haggadah, whose on-line sale has been made possible with the cooperation of the New Israel Fund.

What the Haggadah seeks to do is to draw a parallel between Israelite slavery and the lot of the Palestinians. The comparison is, of course, simplistic, false and intended to mislead. Pharaoh and his taskmasters were not interested in reaching an accommodation with the Israelites.

The same cannot be said for most Israelis, who have repeatedly expressed their wish to arrive at a peace agreement with the Palestinians. We remember only too well the 2000 Camp David Summit hosted by President Clinton in which Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat participated. Clinton has gone on record as blaming Arafat for having refused to respond to Israel’s peace proposals.

Eight years later Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians an even more generous deal in which Israel would effectively forgo sovereignty of the Temple Mount and in which he proposed a 5%-6% land swap in order to compensate the Palestinians for the major settlement blocs such as Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel that he wished to retain under Israeli jurisdiction. Mahmoud Abbas refused.

I don’t recall Pharaoh offering the Israelites any kind of a deal. On the contrary, he gave a command that every Israelite son be thrown into the Nile (Exodus 1:22).

Nowhere does the Torah tell us that the Israelites wanted to overthrow the Egyptians and take possession of their land. The same cannot be said of the Palestinian Hamas, who control the Gaza Strip and continue to call and work for Israel’s destruction.

Some Palestinians live very comfortably while many lead wretched lives. That was not true of the Israelites in Egypt. All of them suffered. “And they embittered their lives with hard labor” (Exodus 1:14). By contrast, many Palestinians work in Israel bringing home wages far in excess of anything that they could possibly earn at home.

Of course, there are two competing narratives as to how we reached the present tragic situation, which has caused suffering to Palestinians and Israelis alike. Both sides share some responsibility. At least the Haggadah grudgingly acknowledges that when it quotes Prof. Haviva Pedaya as stating that “Nor (is) one party alone guilty for the complex situation.”

However, her statement is more than outbalanced by sketches such as that of a high concrete security barrier reminiscent of the Berlin Wall. No mention is made of the fact that it was erected to protect Israeli citizens following the Second Intifada in which over 1,000 men, women and children were murdered and many more injured and maimed by Palestinian suicide bombers.

This Haggadah is aimed at Diaspora Jews many of whom have little idea of the complexity of Middle East politics and don’t know the history. They will understandably condemn Israel and a further wedge will have been driven between us Israelis and those Jews who bought this Haggadah and were duped by its message. The Palestinians will love it. It has presented only one side of the story without allowing the defense to make its case. That is unpardonable.


Posted in Hamas, International Criticism, Peace Negotiations | Leave a comment

UN Security Council Resolution 2334

Many view the decision of the United States not to exercise its veto against UN Security Council Resolution 2334 as the last attempt by President Obama in the death throes of his presidency to score a point against Bibi. White House protestations to the contrary are not taken seriously.

The Resolution is flawed on a number of counts. It demands “that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”. Presumably that means that Israel has no right to build in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City or in the Jerusalem suburbs of Gilo and French Hill.

While those areas are termed “occupied”, the inability of the Resolution to distinguish between such neighborhoods and isolated settlements and outposts on the West Bank is unhelpful. No Israeli government would ever relinquish those areas and it is foolhardy to even suggest that she should. The sloppy wording of the Resolution only goes to show how far those who voted for it are removed from the facts on the ground.

No less problematic is the unwillingness of those who formulated the Resolution to address Palestinian misdemeanors. It is simply not good enough to condemn “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction” without specifically naming the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas.

Hamas runs military training “summer camps” for children in the Gaza Strip and has rained down missiles on Israeli civilian targets, while the PA names town squares and football teams after shahidim, who have murdered and maimed thousands of Israeli civilians. When Palestinian terrorists are incarcerated in Israeli prisons, the PA grants their families stipends. Children are taught in PA schools that the day will come when they will return to Haifa and Jaffa. That is not how you build an infrastructure for peace.

However, the Palestinians do not hold a monopoly on fantasies. Settlers who call the West Bank “Judea and Samaria” live under the illusion that we have the right to settle in all of the land that was promised to our ancestor Abraham and in which our forefathers lived over 3,000 years ago. When the Jewish National Fund distributes collection boxes depicting an Israel extending from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea they simply feed that delusion. Building and expanding settlements cannot help Palestinians believe that Israel really supports a territorial compromise.

If the truth be told, neither the Israelis by and large nor the Palestinians are prepared to forgo their expansionist fantasies and recognize that both sides will have to put their dreams aside if they are to live in peace.

A joint Israeli Palestinian poll recently showed that nearly 60 percent of both Israeli Jews and Palestinians were against a permanent status agreement based on previous Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

If the truth be told, both sides are headed by leaders unable and unwilling to pay the price that a comprehensive settlement would require. Prime Minister Netanyahu panders to the settlers and stands at the head of a Likkud whose coalition is more right-wing than any government that Israel has ever known.

Meanwhile, President Abbas is ever fearful that Hammas will displace the PA on the West Bank. Like Netanyahu, he cannot afford to be perceived of as favoring compromise. The rise of Islamism and Al-Qaeda has only served to increase anxiety about the threats that surround us and have created an atmosphere in which Israel is unlikely to take risks.

And that is the political context in which the United Nations Security Council has seen fit to castigate Israeli policy with regard to settlements. The PA is delighted with the outcome of a vote from which the United States chose to abstain. Israel’s enemies are rubbing their hands with glee that she has been given a bloody nose. However, the Resolution is ultimately futile and won’t contribute one iota to solving the Israel/Palestinian conflict. On the contrary, it will make some Israelis wonder what Obama really meant when he said “I’ve got your back”.

Posted in International Criticism, Peace Negotiations, Pressuring Israel | 2 Comments

Implications of Failed Manipulations

It seems that Tony Blair and John Kerry worked to try to get Prime Minister Netanyahu to add the Zionist Union into the coalition in order to promote peace efforts. Let’s consider this for a moment.

  1. This would mean foreign governments were actively trying to manipulate the composition of the elected government of Israel to suit their desires. This makes Bibi’s speech to Congress in an attempt to publicly share his opinion on the Iran nuclear deal pale, by far, in comparison, laughably so. This would be like Israel trying to get Hillary Clinton to make Bernie Sanders her VP and to change her policies to be in line with his. Actually, it’s more like Israel trying to encourage Donald Trump to make Hillary Clinton, the leader of the opposing side, his VP, but that doesn’t work in our political system, so Clinton-Sanders is a better example.
  2. Kerry and Blair failed so miserably that not only did Zionist Union not end up joining the coalition, they created an environment that encouraged Israel Beiteinu to join it! This actually makes the governing coalition even a further right leaning one.
  3. Zionist Union was again harmed by those foreign powers trying to use it. Think about this for a moment. Zionist Union was literally being used by foreign powers to influence Israeli governmental policy. Let that one sink in.
  4. Avigdor Lieberman may be problematic for a number of reasons, but his ability to work with Russian leaders at a time when Israel needs to work with Russia on Syria and Iran related security issues actually makes his appointment to Minister of Defense make some sense.
  5. Herzog overplayed his hand. Instead of settling for joining the coalition and promoting policies tilted in its direction, Herzog insisted on commitments that would have forced Netanyahu’s other coalition partners to leave the coalition and quite possibly split his own party.
  6. There was no chance that he would willingly do that. Somehow, Herzog seems to have been convinced that pressure against Netanyahu might be enough to make him do it. That is the only possible reasonable interpretation and it means that Herzog expected Israel to be threatened if Netanyahu didn’t comply.
  7. So one question before us is “Will the Quartet threaten Israel, now that Netanyahu has not complied?”
  8. Another is “What actual policy changes may occur with Israel Beiteinu in the coalition, if any?”

****Update May 20, 2016

Bogie Ya’alon has now left the government. This is significant further damage of the failed attempt to bring the Zionist Union into the government. Ya’alon was a moderate voice in the Likud led cabinet. Replacing him on the Likud MK list is Yehuda Glick of Temple Mount fame.

So instead of having a Netanyahu led coalition barely scraping by with 61 seats and having Ya’alon’s moderate voice and military leadership experience in the cabinet as Defense Minister, Israel now has Avigdor Liberman in the cabinet, Yehuda Glick in the K’nesset, a severely weakened opposition leader in Herzog and a strengthened right leaning coalition that now tilts further right.

Posted in We Are For Israel | 10 Comments

Hope and Security – Toward Two States

Going on mostly behind the scenes are many cooperative efforts between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Saudis. The Sunni Nationalist states would greatly benefit from Israeli-Palestinian peace for no reason other than that they need to work with Israel right now with or without that peace. It would be far less politically problematic for them to do so with a peace agreement of some sort. So Egypt’s Al Sisi is encouraging one and Netanyahu says that Israel is ready for it.

Al Sisi said that:

If we are able to — all of us together — with effort and a real will and devotion, find a solution for this issue, and find hope for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis, I am telling you a new page will be written.

Note how Al Sisi frames the issue:

  1. Hope for the Palestinians.
  2. Security for the Israelis.

In other words, peace is going to continue to be a process. Hope means moving forward toward a better future. Security means not jeopardizing something you already have. That is precisely what is needed. The Palestinian people need to be able to look forward to a future better than the present. The Israelis need to know that they will be able to live securely in Israel as it now defines itself, Jewish and Democratic.

Interestingly, this all brings Fatah’s Arab allies full circle. Once they were engaged on the side of the Palestinians to bring about peace with Israel and then disengaged because of the Fatah-Hamas civil war. Now they are engaged as a way to help themselves.

This is perhaps the first time that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are possible in which none of the major players (Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) see any of the others as a proxy of any other nation. In fact, it is readily apparent that with the exception of Hamas controlled Gaza, this group recognizes that they will have to work together to combat regional threats arrayed against all of them, namely Iran and the Islamic State. Furthermore, among the group, Israel is the most essential partner to have, providing incentive for each to maintain a working, if not good, strategic relationship.

The leaders already understand this and are engaged with each other. The general population of the Sunni Arab nations, however, is more reluctant to approve of the needed relationships until peace of some sort is achieved. Yes, some would object to any peace with Israel, but no few would not and the absence of overwhelming opposition to cooperation with Israel would be advantageous in combating the regional threats.

Within Israel, this news brings additional incentive for the Zionist Union to enter the coalition. As a member of the government, it could urge the government to move forward in some fashion and allow it to do so without threat of collapse at the hands of the right wing parties.

Don’t get all excited yet. We’re not going to see Bibi and Abu Mazen walking down the paths of Camp David anytime soon, but we may see some progress in the right direction for the first time in a long time. That at least might be something to give us all hope for the future.

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The Sad State of the Two State Debate

These are the words of the leader of the pro-peace Labor party, Buji Herzog:

I don’t see a possibility at the moment of implementing the two-state solution. I want to yearn for it, I want to move toward it, I want negotiations, I sign on to it and I am obligated to it, but I don’t see the possibility of doing it right now.

It is not simply that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not willing to bring it about. Instead, it is that security concerns must be addressed first. According to the Times of Israel:

Netanyahu and [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] are incapable of moving forward,” he alleged — but [Herzog] said that should he be elected prime minister, his coalition would focus on implementing security measures rather than a bilateral agreement.

The dominant perspectives in Israel right now in regard to the possibility of a two-state solution are the following:

The position of the Center-Left (30-40% including much of the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid): A two-state solution might be possible at some future date provided security measures are addressed first, accomplished, and proven effective. Only then, when those who seek to harm Israelis and would be significantly empowered by the increased freedom of mobility and ability to acquire supplies that would be available in a two state solution, can Israel realistically move forward. Some on the left in the past have suggested that the Palestinian Authority must regain effective control of Gaza as part of this process. The settlement blocs and metro Jerusalem would remain under Israeli control. The Center-Left would encourage the Prime Minister to maintain policies that would promote the possibility of a two-state solution to happen in the long-term.

The position of the Center-Right (30-40% including much of Likud and Kulanu): A full two-state solution with Palestinian border control is unrealistic for the foreseeable future. In essence, the Center-Right would begin with the conditions set by the Center-Left and add relatively long-term Israeli border control and stronger security measures. The difference in the short term is that the Center-Right is more reluctant to accept restrictions on policy necessary to promote a long-term peace agreement.

The position of the Right extreme (10-20% including much of Jewish Home, UTJ, SHAS, and some of Likud): All of the land belongs to the Jews. Most of those from this perspective believe that the status-quo can be maintained indefinitely with Palestinians living within Israel’s borders as citizens of an observer state within the state. A tiny minority believe that the Muslim Arabs [they see the Palestinians not as a national group at all] should leave the Jewish state and go elsewhere if they are not willing to accept the status-quo.

The position of the Left extreme (10-20% including much of Meretz and the Arab List): There must be either a two-state solution put in place in the near future or else Israel must act as if the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are Israeli citizens. Either of these solutions would accept that major security problems would accompany the solutions.

Looking at this, one must accept that while a substantial majority of Israelis believe that a two state solution that provides Israel security would be the goal, upwards of 70% of the Israeli population believes that not only is a two-state solution not possible in the foreseeable future, but that there is much work to do on the security situation, both in the shorter and longer terms, in order to alter that reality.

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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

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…

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