Saturday, February 18, 2017

Netanyahu vists USA and Australia

From The Australian, 18 Feb 2017, by Greg Sheridan*:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had the best Washington meeting with US President Donald Trump that he could have hoped for.

Trump was as warm to Netanyahu as Barack Obama had been cold and haughty. Trump was as effusive in his praise not only for his Israeli colleague but for Israel itself, as Obama had been constipated and miserly.

On the most important strategic issue that Israel faces — Iran’s growing nuclear and missile power and its aggressive and destabilising role in the region — the view from Washington is now aligned with Israel’s view.

Above all, Trump gave Netanyahu the maximum diplomatic space to move, especially on policy in relation to the Palestinian issue.

Trump broke protocol by declining to explicitly commit to the traditional formulation of supporting a “two-state solution”, meaning the state of Israel sitting alongside a Palestinian state occupying most of the West Bank and Gaza.

Instead, the President said: “I am looking at two states and one state (solutions). I am very happy with the one that both parties like. I thought for a while the two-state might be easier to do, but honestly, if Bibi (Netanyahu) and the Palestinians are happy, then I am happy with the one they like best.”

Netanyahu himself studiously avoided uttering the phrase “two- state solution”.

In yet another case of Trump derangement syndrome, half the world’s professional bloviators have decided Trump has produced a global revolution, called down the 10 plagues and committed the crime that dare not speak its name.

Yet there was both more and less to what Trump said than the words themselves.

The most important change here was in tone. The US still has its differences with Israel on the Palestinian issue, as Trump also made clear. But the change in tone was everything. Trump is Israel’s ally, and Netanyahu’s ally, standing shoulder to shoulder with ­Israel, jointly working on extremely difficult problems.

But the formal policy differences still remain. Trump, albeit in very gentle language, told Netanyahu that Israel would have to pull back on settlement construction in the West Bank. He said Israel would have to compromise. It wouldn’t get everything it wanted.

About eight years ago, in a ­famous speech at Bar Ilan University, Netanyahu made his own historic, public commitment to the two-state solution. When questioned after his joint appearance with Trump, Netanyahu said his views had not changed. But he is reluctant to go back to intoning the mantra of the “two-state solution”, he says, because its meaning can be too divergent and unclear, and the implications about its timing can also be unclear.

Of course, in saying that he would support a solution the parties agreed to, Trump was in any event giving the Palestinians a veto over anything short of the two-state solution, if that’s what they want.

But there’s no doubt that things are moving. Trump is shaking things up. Netanyahu is facing a miscellany of domestic political problems after an astonishing near decade at the top of one of the most complex and difficult political systems in the democratic world. And the roiling chaos and instability of the Middle East provides its own context of heightened tension.

This week Netanyahu comes to Australia. He will get a warm welcome from Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten too. Australia is not a first division player in the Middle East, but it is the 13th largest economy in the world, the second largest Western allied military contributor in Syria. We are a big player in Asia, where Israel is enjoying unprecedented diplomatic success. And probably, outside Washington, Canberra is the most steadfastly pro-Israel capital in the Western world.

On the day Netanyahu met Trump in Washington, I interviewed Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz in his Jerusalem ­office. Steinitz is close to Netanyahu and was acting Prime Minister during Netanyahu’s overseas visit. In a long discussion, he offered a critical insight into Israeli government thinking on the two-state ­solution, on Iran, on Syria and on Israel’s booming hi-tech economy.

He rates Iran as the most important challenge facing Israel, but it’s worth quoting him at some length on the Palestinian question.

I asked him if he and the government supported the two-state solution.

“This is very complicated,” he said. “In the longer term, this (the two-state solution) is the view and the hope of the Prime Minister and most Israelis, me included. Unfortunately, at the moment, this is only a theoretical question.

“If someone would come and offer us real peace — the right of Israel to maintain its tiny Jewish state — if someone really offered us genuine peace and real security, most Israelis would be willing to make territorial concessions, including painful territorial concessions, to bring about a demili­tarised Palestinian state.

“Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) is not a real partner. Look at the main messages in his education system. The main message is that Israel must be destroyed, that Jews are horrible creatures and always corrupt the vicinity around them, so they should be got rid of, like Europe did. Also look what’s happening in Gaza. We withdrew from Gaza, uprooted Jewish settlements, got a mini-Palestinian state with contiguous territory, and we got no security. Instead we’ve had 16,800 rockets and missiles launched on Israel.

“Now, who can guarantee that if we were to make territorial concessions in the West Bank, we won’t see the same thing we saw in Gaza, especially if we see what’s happening all through the Middle East?

“So it (the two-state solution) is unrealistic currently, until we have realistic partners for peace.”

Palestinians would contest many of Steinitz’s points but it seems to be the authentic Israeli government view: the two-state solution is the ideal. It’s not realistic now in a way that is compatible with Israeli security, therefore the status quo, with all its difficulties, must be persisted with.

But Steinitz is much more ­urgently concerned with the danger for Israel, and for many other nations, emerging out of Iran, and it is here that he most urgently wants action from the new Trump administration.

He wants the Trump administration to show resolve, to “stop Iran, to stop Iranian terrorism, Iranian missile programs, Iranian expansion all over the Middle East’’.

“Take Syria. Let’s assume there’s a settlement. Iran’s hope is to make Syria an Iranian stronghold, a Shi’ite extension of Iran, to develop a permanent military presence there. This would mean for Israel an Iranian air force presence, Iranian Republican Guards, tactical missiles, intelligence presence, navy — all on our borders.

“This would also be extremely dangerous for NATO, if Iran has direct control of naval bases. It is very dangerous for American ­allies like Jordan, which could be engulfed by the Iranian presence.

“Iran is also in Lebanon, endangering us and the people of Lebanon. It could lead to another very destructive conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. Like North Korea, Iran is trying to develop long-range missiles including intercontinental ballistic missiles. There is a new determination to constrain both North Korea and Iran. It boils down to the same issue: if North Korea can get thermo­nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, it can reach the middle of America and the middle of Australia. This will have an effect on Iran.”

Steinitz hopes Trump will be more resolute than Obama (he could hardly be less resolute) and Netanyahu is sure to seek Australian support on Iran during his forthcoming visit.

But Israel is concerned not only about missiles and territory and threats. It is a start-up nation and its hi-tech success is the envy of the world. Steinitz believes this is having a direct effect in improving even further Israel-Australia relations, and indeed Israel’s standing around the world.

“Technology is playing a big role here,” Steinitz says.

“Countries are realising that ­although Israel is small, if you want to be on the front line of technology, you need a big Israeli leg. All the hi-tech ­giants have come to Israel. In the last five years we’ve seen a new phenomenon. Other industries, like the car industry or the aeroplane manufacturing industry, see that they too need to have an R&D centre in Israel. Suddenly, all industries are realising that cyber technology and cyber security are crucial.

“Let me give you just a couple of statistics. In little Israel, there are more tech start-ups than in the whole of the EU put together. In complete numbers, Israel is second only to the US. It has more tech start-ups than China or Japan. This year, about 20 per cent of global investment in cyber security (R&D) will be in Israel.”

Israel is a small nation — 8.5 million people — but it is at the centre of giant forces ­shaping the global economy and global security. This week, it wants to focus on Australia.

*Greg Sheridan visited Israel as a guest of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Obama gave Iran the Green Light for Missiles that could hit Israel

From WorldNetDaily.com, 5 Jan 2017:


Just as Iran announced the testing of a ballistic missile and the Trump administration reviewed plans for new sanctions, the rogue Islamic regime claimed that in nuclear negotiations, President Obama allowed Iran to have missiles that could strike Israel, reports Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

In statements, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps “hinted that restrictions on the range of Iranian missiles so that they reach Israel but not Europe were part of the Iran deal,” reported the Middle East Media Research Institute.

MEMRI said that according to Iranian officials, the Obama administration gave unwritten consent in the nuclear talks and in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiations for Iran to develop ballistic missiles with a range of only 2,000 kilometers, or 1,200 miles, which means they could strike Israel but not Europe.

The agreement purports to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, restricting its research and development capabilities. However, critics say it gives Iran the capability of building nuclear weapons once the deal expires.

The deal has been controversial because of the secrecy under which Obama took the action, the unknown side deals and the billions of dollars in cash delivered to Iran in the same time frame.

The MEMRI report questioned whether the Obama permission for Iran to develop missiles with a range up to 1,200 miles was a secret part of the overall nuclear deal or “simply unwritten consent.”
Revolutionary Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jafari referred to the IRGC’s Nov. 2, 2015, consent to U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, saying: “One of the points in this resolution was the matter of restrictions, which some military elements feared. Therefore, we held meetings in [Iran’s] Supreme National Security Council, and also went to the Leader [Khamenei]. The [Iranian] negotiating team told the Westerners that we do not agree to these restrictions. They [the Westerners] said that these issues must be included in the resolution. Even when I met with the Leader, he said that there were no restrictions on developing defensive capabilities. The only restriction relates to nuclear missiles, which, obviously, we never wanted.

The next day, on Nov. 3, 2015, Iranian Army chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi referred to Jafari’s remarks, saying: “I confirm statements by the IRGC commander that Iran’s missile activity is not restricted. We will follow two restrictions: The first is mentioned in the JCPOA, in the matter of no nuclear planning, and the second is the range of 2,000 km, which has already been noted previously by all elements in Iran.”

The MEMRI report confirmed published accounts that Iranian Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi claimed his nation is “entitled to produce missiles with a range of 2,000 km.”

“These statements indicate that although the permission given to Iran to develop missiles capable of striking Israel is likely not a secret annex of the JCPOA, it still constitutes unwritten consent that is an integral part of the nuclear deal. It is convenient for both sides not to publish this understanding in written form – for Iran because it rejects any public reference to its missile program, which it defines as defensive but is in fact offensive; and for the Obama administration, because there would be repercussions if it were to be revealed that it had given Iran permission to develop missiles capable of striking Israel,” MEMRI reported.

Trump's Jordanian Option

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 407, February 6, 2017, by Prof. Hillel Frisch and Yitzhak Sokoloff:

King Abdullah of Jordan, WEF, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons

Instead of fixating on an independent Palestinian state, the new US administration should look east to the Hashemite Kingdom as a stabilizing influence on Palestinian politics. President Trump has an opportunity to help Jordan prosper while furthering the interests of the US and its allies.

In his first meeting with President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to stake out common ground on the issues that have most troubled American-Israeli relations over the past eight years: the problem of Iran, and Israel’s settlement policy in Judea and Samaria. Particularly in light of recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which labeled Israel’s settlement activity illegal, Netanyahu will need to seek American support for renewed Israeli building in Jerusalem and the blocs, and a renewal of the guarantees of the “Bush letter.”

Beyond that, the inauguration of a new American administration presents an opportunity for Israel to take the lead in advocating a far more ambitious initiative: a major investment in the economic prosperity and political stability of the Kingdom of Jordan.

The gravitational force of a prosperous Jordan would expand the functional links that have always existed between the cities of the West Bank and Amman. It would encourage Palestinians in the West Bank to look to a link with Jordan as the best guarantee of their political and economic future.

Because of this, Jordan has the potential (once again) to become a major stabilizing influence on Palestinian politics, which would serve the interests of Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian people.

The reemergence of a Jordanian role in the disposition of the West Bank is much preferable to the current international fixation on the concept of an independent, contiguous Palestinian state whose border is based on the 1967 lines. Such a state would be no less of a long-term strategic threat today than it was before the advent of Oslo. So too is Palestinian irredentism a threat to Jordan’s security.

A Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria is likely to succumb to a Hamas takeover and Iranian influence, and to become a theocratic and autocratic state along the lines of the Hamas regime in Gaza. Moreover, it is unobtainable.

Despite Israel’s acceptance of the two-state concept and its agreement to unprecedented territorial dispositions, Israeli concessions have not met the minimal Palestinian demands required for a peace agreement. Nor are they ever likely to do so if the Palestinian Authority is seen as the only possible partner in the peace process.

The inauguration of an American administration uncommitted to the principle of an independent Palestinian state provides Israel with the opportunity to advocate a long-term strategic vision of building up a prosperous Jordan. A strong and stable Jordan could provide an alternative to the model of a two-state solution that depends on the Palestinian Authority.

Such a vision will not only attenuate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Equally importantly, it will bolster Jordan, whose importance to regional stability has never been so crucial.

Even more critical is Jordan’s role in containing growing Iranian influence. This is particularly vital now that Iran, along with its terrorist arm Hezbollah, has succeeded in placing its candidate in Lebanon’s presidential palace, making Beirut the fourth capital Iran basically controls in the Arab world. The recent rout of the rebels from eastern Aleppo and the complete takeover of the city by Syrian, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed forces have major implications for the Sunni-Shiite balance of power.

The pivotal roles Jordan is playing in the fights against IS and against the Iranian-Syrian axis are interrelated. The population of Jordan is Sunni, and is extremely fearful of the growing Shiite menace. If the Jordanian state appears unable to stem the tide, the population might turn to IS, as did many of the Sunni tribes in Iraq in the past.

Jordan has traditionally been a pro-Western state ruling through cooption and consensus. Though Jordan is not quite a Jeffersonian democracy, it is far closer to that ideal than any other Arab state in the region.

Critics of a plan to involve Jordan in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be quick to point out that it would entail thrusting a role on Jordan that it does not want. This is certainly the case rhetorically.

Jordan has been committed to a two-state solution since the Oslo Accords, but there are two pieces of evidence that the Hashemite Kingdom is flexible and open to political opportunity. The first is that the Kingdom, throughout the twenty-five years since its announcement of the severance of ties with the West Bank, has refrained from amending the 1952 constitution, which enshrines a Kingdom that unites the two banks of the Jordan River – the East and West Banks.

The second are the trial balloons the Kingdom raises from time to time regarding the feasibility of renewing the Jordanian option. The last was in May 2016, when former Jordanian prime minister Abd al Salam Majali met 100 notables in Nablus at a meeting arranged by Ghassan al-Shak’a, a Nablus-based member of the Executive Committee of the PLO. Simultaneously, in the Hebron area, Jordanian MP Muhammad Al-Dawaimeh launched the “One Million Hebronites” initiative to promote a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. The Hebron delegation was to meet with King Abdullah to discuss this issue, though it should be noted that al-Shak’a stressed that such a confederation could only come into being after a Palestinian state is created.

Several actors can play a critical role in making Jordan prosperous, and they all have a vested interest in making it happen.

The Saudis and the Gulf states should provide the finance. The US should prod them to do so for their own good, but also to reciprocate for the American security umbrella under which they have been living ever since Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait. Throughout his campaign, President Trump stressed that he wants US allies to pay for the security umbrella the US provides. This is one way the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia can comply.

Regionally, Jordan has never been a more important strategic asset for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies or more worthy of investment. It defends what remains of these states’ northern flank against Syrian-Iranian encroachment and helps balance the threat Shiite Iraq poses to Saudi Arabia’s eastern border, critically close to its major oil fields.

Internationally, the current leadership of the EU – the champion of the two-state solution, almost to the point of obsession – has been considerably weakened by events such as the takeover in Crimea and Brexit. With the vast increase in Islamic terrorism on its home ground, the EU might be inclined to join a venture that will be part of the front against terrorism rather than create a state that might well promote it.

Channeling money to the Palestinians through Jordan would also improve transparency and assure that less money is channeled to incitement and terrorism. It will be important to gradually wean international aid away from the PA and towards Jordan to enable the latter to extend its influence in the West Bank. Israeli-Jordanian security cooperation, historically extensive, can also play a vital role in securing the cooperation of the security forces currently operating under the PA.

Recent trends bolster the prospects of such a project. Locally, the possible breakup of the PA into north and south as a result of the struggle over Abbas’s succession could revitalize the links between Nablus and Amman, as well as Hebron and Amman. Should a breakup occur in the PA, its inhabitants will likely pine for the stability Jordanian influence can offer.

Above all, an incoming president who is new to politics, beholden to no political establishment, and a seasoned businessman with a history of making opportunities come true is moving into the White House. The vision of making Jordan prosperous, and the gains of such a venture in the interests of the US and its allies, might well fire his imagination.

The Oslo Disaster

With all that is happening around the world recently, this Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 123, of September 4, 2016, by BESA's new Director, Prof. Efraim Karsh, may have escaped your attention. Now is a good time to absorb it, carefully...

Prof. Efraim Karsh, the incoming director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, indicts the Oslo diplomatic process as “the starkest strategic blunder in Israel’s history” and as “one of the worst calamities ever to have afflicted Israelis and Palestinians.”
“Twenty three years after its euphoric launch on the White House lawn,” Karsh writes in this comprehensive study, “the Oslo ‘peace process’ has substantially worsened the position of both parties and made the prospects for peace and reconciliation ever more remote.”
“The process has led to establishment of an ineradicable terror entity on Israel’s doorstep, deepened Israel’s internal cleavages, destabilized its political system, and weakened its international standing.”
“It has been a disaster for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians too. It has brought about subjugation to corrupt and repressive PLO and Hamas regimes. These regimes have reversed the hesitant advent of civil society in these territories, shattered their socioeconomic wellbeing, and made the prospects for peace and reconciliation with Israel ever more remote.”
“This abject failure is a direct result of the Palestinian leadership’s perception of the process as a pathway not to a two-state solution – meaning Israel alongside a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – but to the subversion of the State of Israel. They view Oslo not as a path to nation-building and state creation, but to the formation of a repressive terror entity that perpetuates conflict with Israel, while keeping its hapless constituents in constant and bewildered awe as Palestinian leaders line their pockets from the proceeds of this misery.”
Karsh details at length how the Oslo process has weakened Israel’s national security in several key respects.

On the strategic and military levels, it allowed the PLO to achieve in one fell swoop its strategic vision of transforming the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into terror hotbeds that would disrupt Israel’s way of life (to use Yasser Arafat’s words).

Politically and diplomatically, he says, Oslo instantaneously transformed the PLO (and, to a lesser extent, Hamas) into an internationally accepted political actor while upholding its commitment to Israel’s destruction, edging toward fully fledged statehood outside the Oslo framework, and steadily undermining Israel’s international standing.

The ending of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian population of the territories within three-and-a-half years from the onset of the process has gone totally unnoticed (due partly to Palestinian propaganda, partly to Israel’s failure to get this critical point across), with the Jewish state still subject to international opprobrium for the nonexistent “occupation.”

Domestically, Oslo radicalized Israel’s Arab minority, nipping in the bud its decades-long “Israelization” process and putting it on a collision course with Israel’s Jewish community. No less importantly, it made Israeli politics captive to the vicissitudes of Palestinian-Israeli relations, with the PLO and Hamas becoming the effective arbiters of Israel’s political discourse and electoral process.
“On the face of it,” Karsh writes, “Israel’s massive setbacks can be considered Palestinian gains. Yet one’s loss is not necessarily the other’s gain. The Palestinian leadership’s zero-sum approach and predication of Palestinian national identity on hatred of the ‘other,’ rather than on a distinct shared legacy, has resulted in decades of dispersal and statelessness.”
“Even if the PLO were to succeed in gaining international recognition of a fully fledged Palestinian state (with or without a formal peace treaty with Israel) and in preventing Hamas from seizing power, it would still be a failed entity in the worst tradition of Arab dictatorships, in permanent conflict with its Israeli neighbor while brutally repressing its unfortunate subjects.”
Karsh bemoans that fact that “there has been no real reckoning by the Oslo architects and their erstwhile ‘peace camp’ successors, both in Israel and abroad, of the worst blunder in Israel’s history, and no rethinking of its disastrously misconceived assumptions – let alone any public admission of guilt or show of remorse over its horrific costs.”
“Instead, they continue to willfully ignore the Palestinian leadership’s total lack of interest in the two-state solution and serial violation of contractual obligations. They continue to whitewash ongoing Palestinian violence, belittle the extent of Israeli suffering, and blame Jerusalem for the stalled process despite the public endorsement of the two-state solution by five successive Israeli prime ministers: Peres, Barak, Sharon, Olmert, and Netanyahu.”
“Not only has the same terror-tainted Palestinian leadership come to be universally viewed as the prospective government of a future Palestinian state, but its goal of having this state established without negotiating with Israel, or even recognizing its right to exist, seems to be gaining ever wider currency.  This soft racism – asking nothing of the Palestinians as if they are too dim or too primitive to be held accountable for their own words and actions – is an assured recipe for disaster.”
“For so long as not a single Palestinian leader evinces genuine acceptance of the two-state solution or acts in a way signifying an unqualified embrace of the idea, there can be no true or lasting reconciliation with Israel. And so long as the territories continue to be governed by the PLO’s and Hamas’s rule of the jungle, no Palestinian civil society, let alone a viable state, can develop.”
“Just as the creation of free and democratic societies in Germany and Japan after World War II necessitated a comprehensive sociopolitical and educational transformation, so it will only be when Palestinian society undergoes a real ‘spring’ that the century-long conflict between Arabs and Jews can at long last be resolved and a semi-functioning Palestinian state come into being. This requires sweeping the corrupt and oppressive PLO and Hamas rulers from power, eliminating endemic violence from political and social life, and teaching the virtues of coexistence with Israeli neighbors.”
“Sadly, the possibility of a Palestinian spring, which seemed to be in the offing in 1993 when the PLO hovered on the verge of extinction and West Bank and Gaza leadership appeared eager to strike a historic deal within the framework of the Washington peace negotiations, has been destroyed for the foreseeable future by the Oslo ‘peace process’.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Mending the fraying "alliance" opposing Iranian hegemony

In recent years, it has become customary in much analysis of the Middle East emerging from Israel to divide Middle Eastern countries into a series of alliances or ‘camps.’  These camps are identified in a variety of ways.  But the most usual depiction notes a tight, hierarchical bloc of states and movements dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran.  An alliance of ‘moderate’ states opposed to Iran and including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Israel itself is seen as the principal adversary and barrier to the hegemonic ambitions of the Iran-led bloc.  Some depictions also posit the existence of a smaller alliance of states and entities associated with Muslim Brotherhood-style Sunni political Islam (Qatar, Turkey, the Hamas enclave in Gaza).  The picture is then completed with the addition of the rival Salafi Islamist regional networks of al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
This picture is pleasing to the eye both in its coherence and elegant simplicity. It posits a powerful regional alliance of which Israel is seen as a member.  It is much more questionable, however, whether it conforms to reality.
Specifically, while the bloc led by Iran and the transnational networks of the Salafi jihadis are certainly observable, it is far more doubtful if anything resembling an alliance of ‘moderate’ states really exists at all.
Iran stands at the head of an alliance, which has made significant gains across the region over the last half decade.  Its Lebanese client Hizballah is increasingly absorbing the institutions of the Lebanese state.  Its clients in Yemen (the Ansar Allah movement or ‘Houthis’) control the capital and a large swathe of the country.  Bashar Assad of Syria is no longer in danger of being overthrown and now dominates the main cities and coastline of his country, as well as the majority of its population.  In Iraq, the Shia militias of the Hashd al-Shaabi are emerging as a key political and military player.
The Iranian alliance is characterized by a pyramid-type structure, with Iran itself at the top.  In the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Teheran has an agency perfectly suited for the management of this bloc.  As the Syrian war has shown, Teheran is able to muster proxies and clients from across the region and as far afield as Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order to deploy them in support of a beleaguered member of its team.  This is what an alliance looks like.
By contrast, the so-called moderate bloc in fact consists of countries who disagree bitterly on important issues, while agreeing on some others.
Observe:  Saudi Arabia was the first country to express support for the military coup in Egypt on July 3, 2013.  The friendship between Cairo and Riyadh looked set to form a new Sunni Arab bulwark against both the Iranian advance and the ambitions of Sunni radical political Islam.  That is not the way it has turned out.     On a number of key regional files, the two are now on opposite sides.
In Syria, Saudi Arabia was and remains among the key supporters of the rebellion. The Assad regime, as a client of Iran, was a natural enemy for the Saudis.  The Egyptians, however, saw and see the Syrian war entirely differently –  as a battle between a strong, military regime and a rebellion based on Sunni political Islam. In November, 2016, President Sisi said that Assad’s forces were Syrian government forces were “best positioned to combat terrorism and restore stability” in the country.  Sisi identified this stance as part of a broader strategy according to which ‘“Our priority is to support national armies…and deal with extremist elements. The same with Syria and Iraq.’
This places Egypt and Saudi Arabia, supposedly the twin anchors of the ‘moderate’ bloc at loggerheads in two key areas.  In Libya, in line with this orientation, too, Egypt fully supports General Khalifa Haftar and his forces.  Saudi Arabia, by contrast, is largely indifferent to events in that area.
In Yemen, meanwhile, the Egyptians have offered only half hearted support to Saudi Arabia’s war effort against the Houthis.
This, in turn, relates to a further key difference between the two – regarding relations with Iran.
While the Saudis see the Iran-led regional bloc as the key regional threat to their interests, the Egyptians are drawing closer to Teheran. 
The two countries have not had full diplomatic relations since 1980.  But the Iranians acknowledged their common stance on Syria, when Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif specifically requested of John Kerry to invite Egypt to send a delegation to talks on Syria in the Swiss city of Lausanne on October 15, 2016.  In the same month, to the Saudis’ fury, Cairo voted for a Russian backed UN Security Council resolution allowing the continuation of the bombing of rebel held eastern Aleppo.
In turn, when Saudi oil giant Aramco announced the cessation of fuel transfers to Egypt, Sisi declared that ‘“Egypt would not bow to anyone but God,’ and the government of Iraq agreed to step in to make good the shortfall, at the request of Iran and Russia.
So the core Egyptian-Saudi alliance is fraying.
Israel views its chief concerns as Iranian expansionism and Sunni political Islam, Egypt is concerned only with the latter of these.  Saudi Arabia meanwhile, is increasingly concerned only with the former.  Representatives of King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz met late last year with officials of the Muslim Brotherhood in Istanbul, London and Riyadh.  On the agenda was the possible removal of the Brotherhood – Egypt’s key enemy – from Saudi Arabia’s list of terror organizations.  King Salman has taken a far more forgiving view of Sunni political Islam than his predecessor, King Abdullah.  This in turn has led to Saudi rapprochement with Turkey.
Thus, the three main corners of the ‘moderate’ alliance are drifting in different directions – 
Riyadh appears headed toward rapprochement with political Islam while maintaining opposition to Iran, 
Egypt toward Russia, Syria, Iraq and a stance of support for strong states.  
Israel will seek to maintain good relations with each (and with smaller players in the ‘alliance’ such as Jordan and the UAE), on the basis of undoubted areas of shared interest and concern.  
But any notion of a united bloc of western aligned countries standing as a wall against Iranian and Sunni Islamist advancement is today little more than a mirage.


What might change this would be the return of the superpower that was once the patron of all three countries – the United States.  Alliances work when they have leaders.  Only Washington could-re-fashion the disparate enemies of Iran and Sunni political Islam once more into a coherent unit.  It remains to be seen if the Trump Administration is interested in playing this role.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Stop Aid to the Palestinians Until the Terror Ceases

From WSJ, 27 Jan 2017, by DAVID AUFHAUSER and  SANDER GERBER*:


Trump halted an 11th-hour transfer of $221 million. But more can be done to end pensions for killers.

Palestinian leader Rami Hamdallah meets with USAID’s David Harden in Ramallah, West Bank, June, 29, 2016.
PA leader Rami Hamdallah meets with USAID’s David Harden in Ramallah, West Bank, June, 29, 2016. 
PHOTO: PRIME MINISTER OFFICE/ZUMA PRESS

In the twilight hours of the Obama administration, Secretary of State John Kerry authorized the transfer of $221 million to the Palestinian Authority—in violation of an informal agreement with Congress not to do so. Fortunately, President Trump stopped the transfer before the money left America’s shores. Now he has the opportunity—and the responsibility—to do more.

Lawmakers had good reason to oppose the transfer. Much like with the $400 million cash ransom paid to Iran last year, no meaningful effort was made to account for how the money was to be spent or to prevent it from being used to kill innocents.

Since 9/11, it has been accepted wisdom that stopping funds flowing to terrorism is a vital way to diminish its reach and incidence...

A second operating principle growing out of 9/11 is that people who underwrite terrorism bear culpability equal to those who commit it.

...Over the past 10 years, Washington has provided more than $4 billion in foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority. The goal has been to promote a government in the Palestinian territories capable of assuming the responsibilities of a sovereign state, including the recognition of the state of Israel as a legitimate member of the community of nations. ...But unlike the many nongovernmental organizations that contribute charitable funds to the region, American assistance programs ...have yet to ensure effectively that taxpayer dollars are not diverted to support acts of terror.

Yet there is no question that this is happening. 

First, the State Department has acknowledged the diversion in reports to Congress, as documented most recently in a Dec. 16, 2016, Congressional Research Service report. As a remedy, Washington simply reduced its aggregate aid by an amount that is classified but is reported to be pegged to intelligence estimates of what the Palestinian Authority spends to sponsor acts of terrorism. But money is fungible, and it is sophistry to argue that funds provided for good deeds do not enable the bad deeds of the same political entity, particularly given the scarcity of resources.

Second, the Palestinian Authority’s support for killing—such as the stabbing rampage that took the life of Taylor Force, a West Point graduate, in Jaffa, Israel, last March—is indisputable because it is codified in law. Statutes pledge to “martyr” families triple the income for life of the average salary in the West Bank, free tuition, health insurance and clothing allowances.
So popular is the program of pensions for the maiming and killing of civilians that, according to its own 2016 budget, the Palestinian Authority dedicates more than 500 full-time civil servants to its administration, at a cost of around $315 million, or roughly 8% of the budget of the would-be Palestinian state.

In the face of this widely advertised bureaucracy of terror, the Trump administration should suspend all further aid to the Palestinian Authority. Not another dollar should flow until measures are adopted to assure that no more people are slain because American aid enabled the Palestinian Authority to confidently promise compensation for killing. 

Congress has already introduced the vehicle to do this, a bill in the name of Taylor Force. If passed into law, it would condition aid on the secretary of state’s certification that the Palestinian Authority has ended its legal sanction of terrorist financing. Without such a commitment, and strong due diligence by the State Department to ensure that it is honored, American funding of the Palestinian Authority should cease.

That such a straightforward proposition has escaped the Washington establishment for over a decade is perhaps one reason the country has a new president. Mr. Trump should at last enforce the 9/11 orthodoxy that if you stop the money, you stop the killing.

*Mr. Aufhauser was chairman of the National Security Council Policy Committee on Terrorist Financing and the general counsel of the Treasury Department after 9/11. Mr. Gerber is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

PSEUDO-LIBERAL JEWS ARE CAUSING UNSPEAKABLE DAMAGE


Israel US flags

Chaos is the order of the day throughout the entire democratic world.

This has been accelerated by the hypocrisy and intolerance of the vindictive Left, aided and abetted by foolish bleeding-heart pseudo-liberals who have become accomplices in the undermining of democracy.

One can understand that many Democrats were incredulous and devastated that Hillary Clinton could be defeated by Donald Trump, whose lack of civility, absence of political experience and coarse language even offended conservatives. But the outpouring of rage, the histrionic protest marches throughout the world, the establishment of committees to impeach Trump – even prior to the traditional 100-day honeymoon period – is unprecedented.

Contrary to all the claptrap about democracy that they sanctimoniously preached while in office, leftists are unwilling to accept the fact that their candidate was defeated by a parvenu.

The same chaos has swept through Europe, many of whose citizens are revolting against the failure of the Brussels-based European Union bureaucrats to address their needs and above all the collapse in the quality of their lives resulting from millions of so-called refugees flooding their countries.

This has led to a rise in global populism, a revival of conservative and right-wing political parties and rejection of the “politically correct” way of life imposed by sanctimonious liberal ideologues.

How has this chaos impacted on Diaspora Jews? As history has testified, during periods of stress and anxiety, Diaspora Jews face grave threats. Antisemitism, already having reached record levels since the Nazi era, is poised to become even more vicious.

That situation has been temporarily muted because the prevailing threat of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist attacks in many Western nations has directed public anger toward Muslims rather than Jews. This does not apply to Hungary, Greece and Germany.

The Jews, as a minority that has suffered tyranny and persecution, would be expected under current circumstances to concentrate primarily on their own security. Ethics of the Fathers quotes Hillel the Elder, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?” Liberal-inclined Diaspora Jews – especially those lacking an authentic Jewish education – appear to have reversed this dictum. They consider that the well-being of the world and politically correct standards of social values must be their priority – with disregard to the harm this inflicts on them as a community.

Observing Conservative and Reform Jewish leaders in the US, accompanied by once-mainstream liberal Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League and National Council of Jewish Women, at the forefront of hysterical demonstrations accusing Trump of being fascist and encouraging antisemitism, it is if they have been possessed by a dybbuk.

The same bleeding hearts in the US as well as those in Europe were at the forefront of calls to open the gates to Muslim “refugees” steeped in anti-democratic behavior and nourished on diets of undiluted, visceral antisemitism. Setting aside the question of Islamic State terrorist sleeper cells, there is little doubt that these elements will strengthen existing antisemitism in the older immigrant Muslim communities that failed to integrate. Yet many Jews are so dismally ignorant and oblivious that they even compare these immigrants to Jews facing annihilation during the Holocaust who were denied haven by other democratic countries.

This behavior is even more disturbing at a time of historic opportunities with the election of President Trump.

Although by no means yet assured, the US, still the only true global superpower, may truly treat Israel as a genuine ally, a move that would be reinforced by an overwhelmingly pro-Israel Congress. Trump has repeatedly proclaimed his determination to reverse former president Barack Obama’s hostile anti-Israeli policy and create a new alliance between the US and Israel that would be sensitive to the security needs of the Jewish state. His commitment to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would have more than symbolic value. It would have a major impact in reversing the odious definition of the settlement blocs and even the Western Wall and Temple Mount as “occupied territory.” Israel could proceed to build homes and the Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line would prosper. Furthermore, the US will hopefully no longer acquiesce to the UN persecution of Israel and will reject calls to return to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines.

Trump is also likely to bring an end to the US component of the scandalous $300 million per annum provided to the Palestinian Authority, much of which is doled out to murderers.

Israel will also have a powerful ally that recognizes Iran as a rogue state and would substantially reduce the genocidal threat from the Iranian Muslim fundamentalists.

All this has yet to be delivered but there is no doubt that there is now a window of opportunity which Israel should exploit to dramatically minimize the security challenges and separate from the Palestinians with defensible borders. This can be achieved if Israel now has the support of a US that can be counted on as a true ally. Over the past eight years under Obama, the US dramatically eroded Israel’s diplomatic standing, treated the Jewish state as a pariah and provided incentives to the Palestinians to stall negotiations and engage in terrorism. With renewed American support, Israel could at long last stabilize itself.

There is no disputing that many Democratic Party supporters, including large numbers of Jews, were bitterly disappointed at the election result and were further outraged by Trump’s triumphant and, in their view, divisive inaugural address. But surely it is in the interest of the Jewish community to develop a good relationship with the new administration, especially taking into account the enormous uplift it could provide to the beleaguered Jewish state.

Even setting aside his religious Jewish son-in-law, Trump has always been close to Jews and his inner councils incorporate an unprecedented number of passionate religious Zionist Jews. This was highlighted by the honored role of Rabbi Marvin Hier as the first Orthodox rabbi invited to invoke a prayer at the presidential inauguration.

In this context, setting aside individual political beliefs, one must question the legitimacy of those purportedly mainstream Jewish organizational leaders who led the scurrilous accusation of fascism against the new president and the Jewish progressive religious groups calling for mourning and fasting.

One of the main justifying positive elements of progressive Jews was that even if they did not consider themselves obligated to follow Halacha (Jewish law), their activity would ensure that they at least remained within a Jewish framework. What their leaders are doing now is the opposite – encouraging them to take up liberal causes even if it means forsaking Israel, the most fundamental component providing them with a Jewish identity.

They have reversed Hillel’s maxim and act for what they perceive to be the universal needs of humanity, dismissing the interests of their own people. They are undermining themselves as a community and acting as lemmings marching off a cliff to their own destruction.

There is only one example in Jewish history to which such behavior can be compared. The Jewish Bolsheviks also turned against their own people, and ultimately the revolution consumed them.

Unfortunately, the vociferous anti-Trump Jewish activists represent a far greater proportion of the Left and their bleeding-heart pseudo-liberal allies than the Bolsheviks, who represented an insignificant proportion of Russian Jews.

It is clear that in the Diaspora, committed Jews will remain overwhelmingly supportive of Israel while the pseudo-liberal or progressive Jews will become less interested in Israel and ultimately lose their identity. Indeed, Christian Evangelicals now play a far greater role in promoting Israel than some of the mainstream Jewish groups.

We live in a world of chaos and upheaval.

Now is the time for all committed Jews to unite, stand together and concentrate primarily on securing their own rights. Diaspora Jews who, from their comfortable armchairs, claim a better understanding than Israelis of what is good for their security should be treated with contempt. Israel is entitled to expect support from committed Jews over the next few years until it stabilizes its relationship with the world and creates an iron barrier to deter its genocidal enemies.

Once the threats to the Jewish people have been overcome, we can and will become more directly involved in tikkun olam (repairing the world) and fulfilling Rabbi Hillel’s wise advice.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Jerusalem is the Center of Gravity

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 398, January 19, 2017, by Prof. Efraim Inbar*:


Making strategic choices requires distinguishing which issues are urgent and which are important. Right now, the securing of Jewish control over Jerusalem is both urgent and important. Jerusalem carries great symbolic and strategic value for Israel, and Israeli control of the city must be protected.

Israel’s control of a united Jerusalem is challenged now more than ever. UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted on December 23, 2016, declared the Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount occupied territory and any Jewish presence there illegal if it is without Palestinian consent. This followed the October 2016 UNESCO resolution ignoring Jewish links to the Temple Mount. Moreover, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on December 28, 2016 that for the first time, the US supports the idea that Jerusalem should be the capital of two peoples.

Many Israelis console themselves that President Donald Trump will move the US embassy to Jerusalem, signaling a new era. Even if the move takes place, and even if it goes smoothly with few repercussions, it is not at all clear that the rest of the world will fall in step.

In all probability, most of the world will refuse to come along, despite the fact that West Jerusalem is not disputed territory. It will not help that there should be no legal or political problem moving an embassy to the Western part of the city. There was great reluctance to move embassies to pre-1967 Jerusalem long before the Palestinians issued any demands for parts of the city. No particular sensitivity to the Palestinian issue was displayed during the 1948-67 period.

The truth is that many foreign ministries have not yet put to rest the November 1947 UN resolution for the partition of Palestine, which includes an article to internationalize the city under UN control. They simply do not want the Jews to have full control over the eternal city, and are eager to help the Palestinians prevent such control. 

In the Christian and Muslim worlds, Jerusalem has great resonance, and we know the attitudes towards Jews in those cultures. These factors, together with diplomatic inertia (which certainly plays a role), explain the persistent international refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is the seat of government and the capital of the Jewish state.

Jerusalem carries great symbolic value. There is no Zionism without Jerusalem, and David Ben-Gurion accordingly gave the city first priority during the 1948 War of Independence. The Palestinians understand this, which is one of the central reasons why they insist on claiming Jerusalem: they hope to water down Jewish attachment to the Land of Israel.

They have not been entirely unsuccessful in this. Today, the most assimilated elements in Israel’s society advocate parting with the Temple Mount for the sake of peace. Most Israelis, however, continue to believe that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are more important than peace. Indeed, they are ready to fight for it. (For the time being, the Palestinian leadership feels the same.)

Jerusalem also carries great strategic value. Control of Jerusalem secures dominance of the only highway from the coast of the Mediterranean to the Jordan Valley, a route along which military forces can move with little interference from Arab communities. If Israel wants to maintain a defensible border in the east, it must secure the east-west axis from the coast to the Jordan Valley via an undivided Jerusalem. The military importance of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem’s central role in Israel’s eastern line of defense, cannot be overestimated – especially given the immense potential for political upheaval east of the Jordan River. The turmoil of the past few years in the Arab world suggests the need for great caution.

Jerusalem is an issue that commands consensus in Israel. Maintaining social cohesion in the protracted conflict with the Palestinians is easier, not harder, if the struggle is for a united Jerusalem. Therefore, educational efforts should be directed towards reinforcing the national love for Jerusalem, in tandem with budgetary preferential treatment for the development of an even more thriving city.

Israel’s government should make this priority clear in its dealings with the new American administration. With that in mind, it should encourage the US to overcome complaints and threats from the international community and move its embassy to Jerusalem. That would be an important step in securing Jerusalem for the Jewish people.

Of course, most of the work remains to be done by the Israelis themselves. Fortunately, Jerusalem is in our hands, and we have a clear advantage in deciding its future.

Battles are often won by taking over the center of gravity. Jerusalem is the center of gravity in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in both a symbolic and a strategic sense. This insight must be internalized by Israeli society.

*Efraim Inbar is professor emeritus of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, and the founding director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem Will Improve Prospects for Peace

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 397, 18 January 2017, by Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman:


In contrast to the recent "Stop Trump" conference in Paris, a decision by the next US administration to move the US embassy to Jerusalem might be conducive to the cause of peace. 

It will remove the air of delusional unreality surrounding all aspects of the Jerusalem question, and modify what the Palestinians should legitimately expect to achieve at the negotiating table. 

It will send a message of credibility and of stern refusal to bow to threats of violence. It would still need to be packaged carefully, above all in terms of policies the key Arab players now hope to see instituted; such as the restoration of US support for traditional allies and the willingness to back them against the Iranian and Islamist threats.

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and no amount of UN new-speak can change that. For this reason alone, a decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem – as was clearly mandated by Congressional legislation – is long overdue. But it might also turn out to contribute, in the long run, to the prospects of peace.

This claim stands in stark contrast to the dire warnings coming out of the Paris summit (which looks, in hindsight, like a “Stop Trump” gathering; hence the chilly British reaction). John Kerry, for example, spoke carelessly about an "explosion," upon which radical Islamists might feel obliged to deliver. As has been so often the case in the past, however, it is the very attempt to placate Palestinian and Arab demands that makes peace less likely. A hard dose of realism may well set the stage for serious negotiations.

In his rambling speech after the UNSCR 2334 vote, Kerry suggested that Jerusalem can be kept united while serving as the capital of two sovereign states (a somewhat paradoxical proposition). Soft and fuzzy phrases about the future of Jerusalem avoid a simple truth: no Israeli government in the foreseeable future will take the knife to a living city, relinquishing the rights of the Jewish people in the very place that has been the focus of their aspirations for millennia.

Some changes in the line of sovereign control are possible in outlying areas, but that is not what the Palestinians have in mind. What they want is a dramatic outcome that will confirm, retroactively, that the Jews never had a birthright in their own homeland and holy city. This would, they believe, break the moral back of the Zionist endeavor as a whole. This is precisely why it will not happen.

The language of UNSCR 2334, and the atmospherics (if not the relatively harmless results) of the Paris Conference, encourage such unrealistic expectations among the Palestinians. The sooner they are disabused of these notions the better. A proposition that hinges on the dismemberment of Jerusalem or the forcible removal of hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes is a nonstarter. The Palestinians will need to grasp this premise if the two sides are ever to settle down to the business of negotiating a workable and implementable agreement.

The embassy issue is an opportunity to get back to basics. The promulgators of 2334, Kerry in his speech, and the European foreign ministers (with the exception of Boris Johnson) who participated in the Paris conference proceeded from the assumption that their object was to save the two-state solution. They were, in fact, doing the opposite.

As a majority of Israelis have said again and again, in surveys and through the electoral process: a Palestinian state may be possible, but not on Palestinian terms. When much of the world, including the outgoing US administration, buys into the Amr Musa and Saeb Erekat school of negotiations – which posits that Israel, the aggressor, has no right to an inch beyond the 1949 armistice lines, and a total withdrawal, removal of all Israelis living there, partition of Jerusalem, and the right of return are the "objective requirements of peace" – a dose of cold water is in order.

None of that is what UNSCR 242 requires. Nor is it what any true reading of the events of 1948 and 1967 would warrant. A symbolic act such as the establishment of a US Embassy, or at least the installation of some of its functions, in (West!) Jerusalem should help to undo this unrealistic set of demands and expectations.

It would also send a clear signal to the Palestinians, including key members of Mahmoud Abbas's own Fatah, that their outlandish threats of violence – "we shall open the gates of hell" upon America – will not work, and will no longer be tolerated from an entity that enjoys generous US aid. To validate such threats, as Kerry did, is to succumb to the same mistake that President Clinton made in 2000, when he responded frantically to the Palestinian burst of violence. In effect, Clinton signaled to Arafat that his strategy of violence had worked, and he could now extract better terms than what he had been offered at Camp David a few months earlier. The results were sad but predictable, as they would be if Washington again bows to such coercion.

Having said all this, it would be wise for the incoming administration to build a framework or package of measures that would help Palestinian and Arab pragmatists (there is nothing to hope for from the radicals) explain why it would be better to swallow this bitter pill. After all, this is about moving the US embassy to West Jerusalem, which even the Palestinians acknowledge is part of Israel. The US could increase their material rewards, as Israel just did on the water issue. It could sustain the right of waiver over the suspension of aid, which seems likely to flow from new legislation on PA funding for terrorists and their families. It could – indeed must – give Egypt and Jordan a much firmer level of support than what they came to expect from Obama.

Above all, by forging a new and robust interaction with the key Gulf states based on a much more aggressive stance towards the Iranian regime, the incoming administration would greatly reduce the likelihood of an "explosion" in the Arab world. If done right, and in the right context, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem might bring home to the PA the sheer futility of their strategy of threats and of international gatherings and impositions.

*Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, a senior research associate at the BESA Center, is former deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at the Israel National Security Council. He is also a member of the faculty at Shalem College.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Out with the Old, In with the New

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 395, January 16, 2017, by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror*:

trump obama

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: President Barack Obama has eroded the US's superpower status and is leaving behind a far more dangerous world than the one he inherited. A Trump administration gives Israel reason to be optimistic, although it must bear in mind that he is a very shrewd businessman.

One cannot help but admire the American public, which eight years ago elected Barack Obama as the country's first African-American president. The genuine elation and joy in the streets of New York City, where I was when he was sworn in, reflected the change American society had undergone.

Obama assumed office with a very solid worldview. He believed many of the challenges the US was facing globally stemmed from its forceful conduct and ability to impose its will on other nations. In his view, many of Washington's international failures stemmed from the fact that it had not tried to improve ties with its adversaries.

This drove Obama to visit the Middle East – not including Israel – in 2009 and deliver his famous Cairo speech. He believed that addressing the people from the heart would be reciprocated. This was also the logic that drove his attempt to promote a new rapport with Russia.

Eight years later, it is hard to say the world has repaid Obama in kind. The world is not a better, more democratic place; nor does it favor the US in any way. This is especially true in the Middle East, but the sentiment is shared elsewhere as well.

Moreover, the US rollback on its role in different regions has made its allies wary of their aggressive neighbors. This is so much the case that in some countries, there has been talk of replacing the dwindling American nuclear umbrella – by which the US, as a nuclear power, guarantees the protection of its non-nuclear allies – with independent atomic abilities. Should this become reality, it would spell a horrific nuclear race.

Obama is leaving behind a world far more dangerous than the one with which he was entrusted as leader of the most powerful country on earth – a title he managed to seriously compromise.

As far as Israel-US relations go, the eight-year Obama administration has been complex. On the one hand, Israel had a sympathetic ear in Washington with regard to its security needs. The landmark $38 billion defense aid package signed with the US, and the fact that Israel, of all nations, was the first to receive the state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jet, speaks to the American commitment to the Jewish state's security for decades to come.

The relationship between the Israeli and American intelligence agencies continues to be excellent, a state of affairs that would not be possible without direction from the White House. Israel has also received vital US backing in the international arena more than once.

Still, Washington and Jerusalem were at odds under Obama on four important issues.

The first was nuclear nonproliferation
In 2010, the administration failed to keep its promise to Israel and gave in to Arab demands for supervision of Israel's alleged nuclear capabilities. This was done as part of the American effort to maintain consensus at that year's nuclear nonproliferation conference in Vienna.

The Americans may not have explicitly admitted that they broke a promise to Israel in this regard, but they understood that it was perceived that way by Israel and the world. Judging from the limited foreign reports on the issue, Israel's complaints were justified. The US ultimately took action to help Israel overcome the difficulties incurred as a result of that mistake, but that blatant breach of promise made a dent on the collective Israeli consciousness, even if its overall effect has dimmed.

The second issue is the settlement enterprise
The outgoing administration turned settlement construction in Judea and Samaria into the key issue with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It was nothing short of an obsession, and the issue by which any progress would rise or fall.
Washington refrained from pressuring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in any way, even when he failed to agree to the 2014 US framework to reignite the talks. The US deemed Abbas too politically weak to be pressured, while any Israeli construction, in either Judea and Samaria or Jerusalem, was denounced as an obstacle to peace. The administration thereby lost an opportunity of possibly historic proportions to advance the peace talks, while the Israeli government – and a Likud government at that – was more willing than ever to promote it.

The dissonance in the administration's responses was so jarring that it eroded the effectiveness of US condemnation, as the majority of the Israeli public, and some around the world, began to perceive it as one-sided, unjust and unwise. Moreover, the way in which the Obama administration handled the issue of settlements made Abbas climb up a very tall tree. It will be hard for him to climb down from such a height toward future negotiations.

UN Security Council Resolution 2334 denouncing the settlement enterprise, passed in the last month of Obama's presidency, has only made things worse, and is likely to stall negotiations even further. The outgoing president appears to have decided to hinder his successor as much as possible, even at the expense of an interest he allegedly wants to promote. For anyone seeking to advance the peace talks, UNSCR 2334 is counterproductive. If anything, it will be remembered as a low point, the "revenge" of an administration purporting to be analytical and calculated.

Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry's Middle East vision speech, warning that Israel's settlement policies placed the two-state solution in "serious jeopardy," only exacerbated the feeling that the US administration's obsession with the issue has lost all proportion and clouded common sense.

The third issue of discord between Jerusalem and Washington was the Iranian nuclear program.
Some would say this disagreement culminated in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress in March 2015, perceived as an affront to Obama on his own turf. Truth be told, the crisis was of the administration's making.

Contrary to how things are generally handled between allies, the White House made a conscious choice to deceive Israel and conceal the fact that it was holding intensive nuclear negotiations with Iran – an issue that has direct bearing on Israel's very existence.

This move was especially jarring as it involved a dramatic shift in US policy, which resulted in a very bad deal. Even those who believe the deal is solid have a hard time justifying the winding road walked by the US administration to reach it – even more so when some top officials within the administration itself thought it was wrong to hide the talks from Israel.

Choosing this path cost the US Israel's trust, good will, and, to an extent, professional assistance, which could have reduced the scope of error inherent in the agreement. The American claim that things were kept secret for fear of a leak on the Israeli side does not hold water, as nothing had been leaked from intimate Israel-US talks on the issue prior to the US's deviation off course.

The new reality presented by the administration required Netanyahu to outline Israel's position in the clearest possible way, especially before the American public, which is Israel's most important friend. Issues pertaining directly to the fate of the Jewish people must be addressed out loud, and it is right to do so in the highest seats of power. As Kerry himself said, friends must tell each other the truth.

Netanyahu had to consider that the bad deal inked between world powers and Iran might one day require Israel to use force to stop the Islamic Republic's nuclear program from developing military dimensions. He had to lay the moral groundwork that would justify such extreme measures.

This need stemmed from the change in US policy, which went from demanding that Tehran relinquish any nuclear ability to deferring the development of such abilities by 15 years at most, and allowing Iran to continue to develop the next generation of centrifuges and missiles without interruption.

Top US officials stress that the quality of defense ties is proof of the Obama administration's strong support of Israel, but to the president's opponents, it sounds more like an effort to justify undercutting Israel on the Palestinian issue and on Iran's nuclear program.

The fourth issue at odds is the chaos in the Middle East
This was particularly evident after the 2011 ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, when the Obama administration favored the Muslim Brotherhood's Muhammad Morsi as the representative of authentic sentiments among the Egyptian people over the military's countercoup.

Israel preferred Egypt not be ruled by the radical ideology propagated by the Muslim Brotherhood, even if the alternative was Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, who maintains an iron grip on Egypt as president. In this case, the lack of consensus between Washington and Jerusalem over the dangers of political Islam was at the heart of their dispute.

The American approach is ideological, in that it refuses to recognize that radical Islam is an authentic side of Islam. The very phrase "Islamic terrorism" was stricken from the politically correct vocabulary employed by Washington during the Obama years.

As to the incoming administration: 
as far as one can understand its positions on these issues, it appears that with regard to settlement construction and Iran's nuclear program, Israel is likely to find a far more sympathetic ear.
Many of Trump's advisers understand that it is not the settlement enterprise that has prevented Abbas from resuming negotiations with Israel, so there is no point in locking horns over that issue. 
Instead, efforts should focus on measures that could reignite the peace talks – if that is even possible. Abbas will have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. He will have to take concrete steps, from halting the Palestinian Authority's financial support of terrorists' families to eliminating the incitement encouraged by Ramallah.

In this context, it is very important that Trump fulfill his campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This would be a clear signal of US commitment to Israel and recognition of Jerusalem (or the west side of it at least) as its capital. After the outgoing administration's stunt at the Security Council and Kerry's settlement speech, the decision to move the embassy to the Israeli capital will carry even greater significance.

With regard to Iran, many in the incoming administration seem to believe the nuclear deal is as bad for the US as it is for Israel. 
The US is expected to pursue three paths of action: exhausting measures outside the framework of the agreement, such as imposing sanctions on the Iranian missile program and over the fact that it supports terrorism; holding Tehran to the letter of the agreement far more adamantly than did the outgoing administration; and collaborating with Israel on options by which Iran would be unable to pursue nuclear weapons after the deal lapses, even if that means reopening the deal.

It is not up to Israel to push for the annulment of the dangerous Iran deal, to which the outgoing administration committed itself. The US must do so to serve its own interests. Moreover, Iran is a dynamic force in the Middle East, one in the midst of tightening its control over an axis stretching from Tehran to Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. Unless Tehran is stopped, most of the Arab nations east of the Mediterranean will fall under its influence one way or the other.

This would be a historic change that would seriously undermine America's traditional allies, pushing many Sunnis into IS-style radicalism. This is another issue where collaboration between the US and Israel would be key, and it could involve the Sunni Arab states seeking regional stability. It might even be possible to pursue a more far-reaching move that would see the Palestinians enter negotiations as well.

As a guiding principle, ties between Israel and the Trump administration will have to be based on Israel-US relations going back decades. The two will have to determine what new areas of collaboration would prove most beneficial to both.

Understandings will have to be reached to bring about a breakthrough in ties between the two countries. The cyber sphere is one area in which such understandings are likely to reached. This will not be the only area, of course, but Israel should focus its efforts on improving the issues most important to it and refrain from scattering its interests.

It is generally believed that once in office, Trump will break rules, abandon politically correct practices, and act from his gut, in stark contrast to his predecessor. Although it is too soon to judge, the incoming president's instincts seem to be more Israel-friendly than those of his predecessor – although we would be wise to remember that he is also a shrewd businessman.

*Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror is the Anne and Greg Rosshandler Senior Fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He is also a distinguished fellow at JINSA's Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Australia distances itself from Paris peace conference concluding statement

From the ABC (Australia), 16 Jan 2017:

Australia has distanced itself from the concluding statement of the Middle East Peace conference in Paris...

...A spokesperson for the office of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the ABC that
"while the Australian Government was represented at the Paris conference, this does not mean we agree with every element of the final statement".
"The most important priority must be a resumption of direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians...."
Australia was the only country to speak out publicly against the US-backed security council resolution on settlements last month, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling it "one sided" and "deeply unsettling".

The Foreign Minister's office says Australia does not agree with every element of the final statement. (ABC News: Ross Nerdal)

Washington effectively cleared the way for the resolution, which demanded an end to Israeli settlement building, prompting Israeli Government officials to direct harsh attacks against US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Ms Bishop noted at the time that Australia was not currently a member of the Security Council and was not eligible to vote on the resolution, but indicated the Federal Government did not support the contentious move.

The US position was seen as a parting shot at policy by US President Barack Obama, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and who has made settlements a major target of peace efforts that have proven ultimately futile.

In response, Mr Netanyahu said Israel did not need to be lectured to by foreign leaders and that he looked forward to working with US President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to pursue more pro-Israeli policies.

"We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter on December 29.

Britain has 'reservations' about conference outcome
Britain said on Sunday it had reservations about the outcome of the conference in Paris, saying it risked "hardening positions".
"We have particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them — indeed which is taking place against the wishes of the Israelis and which is taking place just days before the transition to a new American president, when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement," a British Foreign Office statement said.
"There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace."

Britain had observer status at the conference. It did not back the final communique.

France fails to regain lost prestige

From JPost, 15 Jan 2017, by Herb Keinon:

France hosts a Purim Shpiel: a lamb survives 70 marauding wolves - a tribute to the Shepherd

French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault plays Haman at the opening of the Mideast "peace conference" in Paris, January 15, 2017. (photo credit:REUTERS)


There in Paris, inside the French Foreign Ministry, tables were set for representatives of some 70 countries, including more than 30 foreign ministers.

At the head of the hall was an elevated area with a podium, a single French flag and, in white letters against a blue background, the following was writ large: "Middle East Peace Conference, Paris – Sunday, January 15, 2017."

Yes, another Middle East "peace conference". Never mind that neither of the parties who are supposed to be making peace – the Israelis and the Palestinians – were present, another Paris peace conference was under way, nonetheless.

...Few expect [anything tangible] to emerge from Sunday’s event in Paris, especially given the fact that in five days there will a new president in the United States widely expected to object to this type of Middle East initiative so adamantly opposed by one of the concerned parties: Israel.

No, this conference is likely to be remembered along with some of the other international meetings in Paris, convened amid great fanfare, that led nowhere.

One such conference was the 2008 parley organized by then president Nicolas Sarkozy – the Union of the Mediterranean – that brought together leaders from some 40 countries around the Mediterranean, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad, who stood on the very same stage without speaking or looking at each other.

That conference, widely viewed then as one of Sarkozy’s vanity projects, led to nothing.

Sarkozy also was instrumental in establishing the Group of Friends of the Syrian People in 2012, which convened in a number of different locations, including Paris, to discuss the Syrian situation. That, too, has not been a resounding success.

Yet, the French were adamant in going ahead with Sunday’s parley, even though they obviously know that – with the absence of Israel’s participation and the emergence of the Trump administration in Washington – the likelihood of its success is very slim.

Why, then, go ahead with it at all? 

Firstly, because this is what the French do – they organize and hold international conferences.

Secondly, because the French feel a historic responsibility toward the Middle East – primarily toward Lebanon and Syria, but also toward Egypt and Israel. They do not see the Levant as a remote corner of the world, but rather a region to which they have strong historic ties and responsibilities.

Thirdly, because of domestic political considerations. And there are two distinct elements at play here.

French President Francois Hollande’s left-wing government has been consistently criticized by the Left for not being leftwing enough. After Hollande came to Israel in 2013, he was criticized inside his party for cozying up too much to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This conference shows the French Left that the government has not forsaken the plight of the Palestinians.

And there are also cold electoral calculations at play, as well.

The Muslim electorate is a significant voting bloc in France, and for a large part of that bloc, the Palestinian issue remains very important. This conference is a way of showing them that the issue is also important for the Socialist Party. Keep in mind that the French will be going to the polls in just a few months to vote in a new president, so the Muslim voting bloc will be particularly significant.

Finally, the French are hosting this conference because there remain few vehicles in the world that lift up a country’s international diplomatic stature – if only momentarily – than hosting a Middle East peace conference.

Paris has, over the last number of years, bet on all the wrong horses in the Middle East: Saddam Hussein in Iraq; Assad in Syria; Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian Authority; Hosni Mubarak in Egypt; and Rafik Hariri in Lebanon.

But hold a Middle East peace conference and maybe – just maybe – none of that will matter and some of that lost diplomatic prestige and luster can be regained.

Then again, maybe not.