Alsheich – Israel’s Grand Inquisitor

Wednesday night was an eye opener for many Israelis.

On Wednesday night Israelis received yet another demonstration of the country’s desperate need for legal reform.

The media in Israel – like their counterparts in the US – tout themselves as democracy’s watchdogs. But on Wednesday night, we saw once again that our fiercest journalists are actually the lapdogs of our unelected legal fraternity, whose members share their hatred for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their general attachment to the ideological Left.

Wednesday night’s primetime news broadcasts all opened with the sensational news that the police’s top investigators from the Lahav 433 unit – Israel’s equivalent of the FBI – were sitting at that very moment with Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich to decide what crimes to recommend Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit indict Netanyahu for.

According to police leakers, their intention is to recommend that Mandelblit indict Netanyahu for at least one count of bribery.

Netanyahu allegedly helped his old friend Hollywood movie mogul Arnon Milchen renew his US visa. Over the years, Milchen allegedly showered Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, with cigars and champagne.

An hour after the news broadcasts all ended, Israel’s flagship investigative news magazine Uvda broadcast a slickly edited, hour-long interview its anchor, Ilana Dayan, conducted over several weeks with Alsheich.

To be clear, Dayan’s interview wasn’t a complete love-fest. She asked Alsheich several biting questions. But overall, Dayan did everything she could to present Alsheich as a hero, a self-made man and all all-around awesome guy.

Dayan devoted a long portion of her interview to Alsheich’s tragic loss of his beloved mother when he was 14. Barely holding back his tears, Alsheich told Dayan that he decided not to let his loss hold him back, and then humbly bragged that he basically raised himself after she passed away.

Dayan spent another long sequence of her interview with Alsheich discussing his role as a Shin Bet interrogator in the tragic Nachshon Wachsman affair.

In 1994, Hamas terrorists kidnapped IDF Cpl. Nachshon Wachsman, a paratrooper hitching a ride on the side of the highway in central Israel.

At the time, Alsheich was a Shin Bet investigator. It turns out that he was the officer who interrogated the Wachsman’s kidnappers’ accomplices. Through them, the Shin Bet located the house near Ramallah where Wachsman was being held, and learned the conditions of his confinement.

Then-prime minister and defense minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-IDF chief of General Staff Ehud Barak ordered the IDF’s elite reconnaissance unit Sayeret Matkal to storm the house and rescue Wachsman. The rescue attempt failed, Wachsman was murdered and one of his rescuers, Capt. Nir Poraz, was killed in the raid. The Wachsman episode was a national tragedy that traumatized the entire country.

By placing Alsheich at the center of the drama, and superimposing video images of Rabin on her conversation with Alsheich, Dayan presented Alsheich as the unsung hero of the national tragedy. In so doing, she effectively rendered him untouchable.

Once she built Alsheich up as a hero, she shifted her attention to the Netanyahu probes. And when Alsheich began to speak, you understood why he needed the buildup.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Alsheich sounded like a tin foil hat conspiracy theorist when he started talking about his probes of the prime minister.

Alsheich presented Dayan with four separate criminal conspiracies, all of which he either directly or indirectly claimed are Netanyahu’s handiwork. It is important to note that each of the conspiracies he alleged involve crimes far graver than accepting too many cigars from an old friend. And none of them is currently being investigated.

The first conspiracy theory he presented as fact was his claim that Netanyahu arranged for private detectives to gather dirt on the police officers investigating him.

Alsheich said that “very powerful forces” hired private detectives who “were wandering around the investigators” and “sniffing about.”
He then said that Dayan was “correct” when she asked if the targeted officers were involved in the Netanyahu probe.

The second conspiracy Alsheich attested to surrounds a female police officer referred to as “Z.” In 2011, Z. filed a sexual harassment complaint against Police Ch.-Sup. Roni Reitman, commander of Lahav 433. Z. alleged that Reitman sexually harassed her on three occasions. There were witnesses to two of the alleged incidents. The police’s internal affairs unit administered lie detector tests for Z. and Reitman. She passed hers. He failed his. The investigators recommended indicting Reitman.

After sitting on the file for four years, in 2015 then-attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein closed the case, citing the long period that had passed since the alleged harassment took place.

Alsheich responded to Weinstein’s decision by immediately instating Reitman as the commander of Lahav 433.
At the urging of her commander, in 2016 Z. petitioned the High Court of Justice and asked the justices to order Alsheich to fire Reitman. Last year, the court ruled in Z.’s favor and gave Alsheich 60 days to fire Reitman.

Alsheich responded to Z’s petition to the court by referring to her as a “criminal.” He opened a disciplinary tribunal against Z. and her commander, claiming they spent too much time together.

Reitman’s lawyers alleged Netanyahu put Z. up to submitting the petition in a plot to force Reitman off his case. Alsheich has repeatedly expressed his agreement with Reitman’s allegation.

In his interview with Dayan, Alsheich said, “I want Reitman’s claims to be investigated.”

Attorney Chai Bar-El who represents Z. responded cynically to Alsheich’s and Reitman’s conspiracy claim in an interview last month with Mida online magazine.

“It’s good that Alsheich’s conspiracy didn’t start in 2011, and that he isn’t claiming that Z. was sent ‘to seduce’ Reitman so that [Netanyahu] would have a card in his future investigations,” Bar-El said.

The third Netanyahu conspiracy Alsheich alleged in his interview with Dayan is that Netanyahu is spreading false rumors about tensions in Alsheich’s relationship with Mandelblit in order to intimidate police investigators.

A few weeks ago, Reshet news (on Channel 13) reported that Mandelblit told his associates that if Netanyahu is tried and found innocent, his acquittal will destroy the legal system. When Dayan asked Alsheich about the report, Alsheich insisted it was false and introduced his third conspiracy.

“Maybe someone wanted the investigators to think that this is what Mandelblit said,” he said.

Dayan responded with amazement, “Did Netanyahu engineer this also?”

Alsheich answered coyly, “Did I say Netanyahu?”

Alsheich’s final conspiracy is his allegation that Netanyahu effectively offered him a bribe when he appointed him police commissioner.

Alsheich was serving as deputy director of the Shin Bet when Netanyahu appointed him police chief in 2015. Alsheich had made no secret of his desire to be promoted to Shin Bet director. Alsheich told Dayan that Netanyahu told him upon his appointment that he would appoint him Shin Bet director if he is still prime minister when Alsheich finishes his tour of duty at the police.

In response to Alsheich’s interview, Netanyahu reinstated his frequent demand that Alsheich’s allegations be investigated. Netanyahu noted that with investigators convinced that he is the functional equivalent of a mafia boss, there is no way he can expect to receive fair treatment.

And again, every one of Alsheich’s alleged conspiracies is on its face an exponentially more serious offense than accepting a bunch of cigars and champagne from an old buddy.

Dayan asked Alsheich why he isn’t investigating his own allegations. Alsheich answered dismissively that an investigation “doesn’t serve the current interests of our central probe.”

Alsheich made the even more bizarre claim that the conspiracies are nothing to worry about, because simply by exposing them to the public, he put a stop to them.

This assertion is particularly distressing because it exposes the police chief’s profound ignorance of the basic precepts of law enforcement.

If Alsheich were able to stop a gang of bank robbers from committing further bank heists by going public with their operation, would that mean that he should let them off the hook for their previous robberies?

THE POLICE INVESTIGATIONS of Netanyahu bear an extraordinary resemblance to the US special counsel’s probe of allegations that Russia colluded with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential elections. But there is one major difference. In Israel there is no equivalent to congressional oversight of the executive branch.

Last weekend, the US experienced a public and constitutional earthquake with the publication of the so-called Nunes memo. The memo summarizes the findings of the House Select Committee on Intelligence’s probe of senior FBI and Justice Department officials’ apparent abuse of their power in pursuit of a surveillance warrant against a campaign adviser to then candidate Donald Trump.

It showed that those top officials hid from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges the fact that the basis for their surveillance request was a dossier prepared by the private investigations firm Fusion GPS that was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The Nunes memo is an earthquake because it showed that the top echelons of the American law enforcement community committed a grave breach of trust and undermined basic democratic norms. The information that has come to light during the course of the congressional probes makes clear these top officials were motivated to act as they did by their partisan convictions and deep-seated animus toward Trump and his supporters.

FROM AN Israeli perspective, the most extraordinary aspect of the Intelligence Committee probe and the parallel probes being conducted by other House and Senate committees is that they are taking place at all.

The US Constitution provides for freedom of the press, understanding the key role a free press is capable of playing in a democracy. But the constitution empowers Congress with oversight powers over the executive branch.

In Israel the Knesset holds no such power. Likud lawmakers have no oversight power. They cannot force Alsheich to explain the basis for his claims that Netanyahu put Z. up to petitioning the High Court. They cannot make him support his claim that Netanyahu hired private detectives to spy on his investigators. They cannot investigate the hemorrhage of leaks from police investigators that deny Netanyahu the basic rights of criminal suspects and the presumption of innocence.

They cannot subpoena police communications to discover the motive for Lahav 433’s decision to investigate Netanyahu and not investigate other politicians against whom far weightier allegations have been leveled.

Wednesday night was an eye opener for many Israelis who saw for the first time Alsheich’s conspiratorial obsession with Netanyahu.

But in the absence of a major overhaul of the legal system in a manner that provides the Knesset with the tools to oversee the executive branch and the judiciary, nothing will be done to remedy the situation, and the future of Israel’s democratic system will continue to rely on the goodwill of our unelected, unaccountable attorney-general.

Originally Published on JPost

Trump Derangement Syndrome as Leftists Target Britain’s Former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks

Originally published in Breitbart
Trump Derangement Syndrome reached a new low last week, as Jewish leftists in America and Britain waged a brutal assault against Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Britain.

It isn’t only President Donald Trump that the “Resistance” seeks to destroy. And their bloodlust isn’t limited to those who work for him, or even to his voters.

If you so much as help the administration achieve a goal that you believe in, for the “Resistance,” you are a criminal.

Sacks served as Britain’s chief rabbi from 1991 through 2013. He is arguably the most widely respected Jewish religious leader in the English-speaking world.

Sacks stands out for his universal accessibility. His written and oral Torah commentaries appeal to Jewish and non-Jewish religious scholars, and to the Jewish and non-Jewish layman, alike.

During his long tenure as Britain’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Sacks developed close working relationships with Britain’s leaders. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, David Cameron and John Major all sought his guidance during their respective tenures as prime minister. They called on Sacks to help them prepare public comments that touched on themes of his scholarship.

And so, too, did U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Last week, Pence gave an extraordinary address before Israel’s Knesset. It isn’t often that a single speech rises to the level of an historic event. But Pence’s address easily crossed the line that separates a great speech from an epic address.

In his speech, Pence gave the clearest expression of Zionism – the Jewish national liberation movement — any non-Jewish leader has ever presented. In so doing, he demolished former President Barack Obama’s narrative legacy in the Middle East. This was a critical achievement.

In June 2009, Obama laid out his ideological approach at his speech “to the Muslim world,” which he delivered at Cairo University. Obama embraced the Islamist view of Israel as a colonialist outpost of European imperialists, and of the Jews as rootless wanderers, with no historical ties — let alone indigenous rights — to the Land of Israel.

Israel, under the Arab-Islamist interpretation, is either the consequence of a conspiracy of Europeans to oppress, divide and conquer the Arabs, or a means for Europeans to expiate their collective guilt for the Holocaust.

Obama said that America’s “strong bonds” to Israel are “based upon … the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust…”.

Israeli politicians and commentators from across the political spectrum were scandalized by Obama’s remarks.

Obama was almost as contemptuous of America as he was of Israel.

Throughout his speech he drew a moral equivalence between the U.S. and its Islamist enemies: Iran and America were equally responsible for their bad relations; the U.S. was just as bad at respecting religious freedom as Islamic regimes; and so on and so forth.

By adopting the anti-American and anti-Semitic Islamist narrative of history, Obama destroyed America’s ability to wage a war of ideas in the Muslim world.

So long as the Trump administration failed to renounce this view, it remained America’s position.

But Last Monday, in his speech before the Knesset, Pence relegated Obama’s intellectual legacy on the Middle East to the dustbin of history.

In elegant prose rich in quotes from the Scriptures, Pence transported his audience through space and time over thousands of years and three continents. He disavowed Obama’s perception of Israel as a colonial outpost born of Holocaust guilt. Instead, Pence restored Israel and America to their rightful positions in human history as the bearers of the torch of freedom.

Pence said, “We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny.

“We stand with Israel because that’s what Americans have always done, and so has it been since my country’s earliest days.”

He continued, “In the story of the Jews, we’ve always seen the story of America. It is the story of an exodus, a journey from persecution to freedom, a story that shows the power of faith and the promise of hope.”

Without mentioning it, Pence rejected the Islamist libel that Jews have no roots in the land of Israel. He said, “The Jewish people held fast to a promise through all the ages, written so long ago, that ‘even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens,’ from there He would gather and bring you back to the land which your fathers possessed.”

Far from being regrettable but understandable byproducts of the Holocaust, as Obama alleged, Pence demonstrated that Zionism and the State of Israel are the natural consequences of the millennial attachment of the Jews to the land of their forefathers.

In the weeks before he came to Israel, Pence told his associates that he was determined to give the most pro-Israel speech ever delivered by a non-Jewish leader at the Knesset. So as he prepared his speech, like Blair and Browne, Cameron and Major, he turned to Rabbi Sacks for guidance.

Rabbi Sacks met with the Vice President in New York for ninety minutes. He helped Pence to develop the themes he wished to discuss in his address. In the weeks that followed their meeting, Pence’s office sent early drafts of his address to Sacks for his comments.

If Pence’s name had been Joe Biden, he would have been congratulated by the entire Jewish world for reaching out to Sacks. And Sacks would have been celebrated by one and all as a towering Jewish figure who helped to craft one of the most important speeches about the Jewish people, the Jewish faith, and the Jewish state ever given by a non-Jewish leader.

But alas, we are not living in normal times.

We are living at a time where the left deems anyone who treats the Trump administration as legitimate as an enemy of the people. We live in times when Jews on the left are unable to distinguish friend from foe, or discern their own interests.

The leftist Jewish media flew into a rage when Sacks’ role in drafting Pence’s speech was reported.

By helping Pence, Batya Ungar-Sargon at the far-left Jewish Forward raged, Sacks empowered Pence’s faith, which she abhors.

“Pence believes God has a plan, not just for him but also for everyone, especially if he agrees with his numerous co-religionist white evangelicals who believe that we are living in the end times.”

At London’s liberal Jewish Chronicle, the writers are beside themselves. Referring to Pence as “loathsome,” Marcus Dysch wrote: “What on earth is Jonathan Sacks, the erudite, polite, shy Englishman doing getting involved with the homophobic, extreme Christian campaigner against women’s rights who is currently serving as Vice President of the United States?”

Dysch then all but accused Sacks of selling his soul for money, writing, “There will be countless wealthy churches across Republican states now falling over themselves to invite Lord Sacks to speak.”

Matthew Gindin, an anti-Zionist Jewish leftist and former Buddhist monk, wrote that Sacks “embodies a communal failure which threatens both the Jewish soul and future.”

Sacks, Gindin said, “has chosen to sell out for Jewish power and glory.”

Notably, neither Dysch nor Gindin wrote a word about Pence’s support for Israel. They didn’t applaud his stated commitment to finding a path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, for instance, which was a section of the speech that drew a standing ovation from Israel’s leftist lawmakers at the Knesset.

They didn’t care about that. Like Ungar-Sargon and a half dozen other writers that piled on against Pence, they hate Pence, and they hate Sacks for helping Pence, because Pence is Trump’s vice president, and because he is an evangelical Christian who takes his faith seriously. And now they hate Sacks because he helped Pence to prepare and deliver the most stunning message of support for Israel any non-Jewish leader has ever given.

It is hard to see a happy end to this madness for the Jewish Left.

Under President Trump, America is moving from strength to strength.

Just as Trump’s tax cuts brought immediate benefits to the U.S. economy, so his decision to make truth, rather than jihadist propaganda, the basis of his Middle East policy is already paying dividends.

After eight years in which Obama wouldn’t say a bad word about jihad but had no end of bad words for America and its allies, less than a week after Pence ground to dust Obama’s ideological legacy in the Middle East, the impact was already being felt.

The Muslim World League served for decades as one of the largest disseminators of jihadist doctrine worldwide. Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the leader of the Muslim World League published a letter condemning the Holocaust and Holocaust denial.

Sheikh Mohammed Al-Issa called the Holocaust “an incident that shook humanity to the core and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.”

“True Islam,” he added, “is against these crimes.”

Where President Trump’s determination to base America’s Middle East policy on the truth will lead is still unknown. But what is abundantly clear is that wherever it takes us will be a far better place than where Obama’s obsequious appeasement was moving the world.

Sacks should be proud of his contribution to Pence’s epic speech. He did a great service to America and to the Jewish people by helping to formulate the clearest expression of America’s historical ties to the people of Israel ever spoken. Pence is to be congratulated for turning to him for advice.

As for their liberal Jewish detractors, the longer they are moved by their hatreds rather than their reason, the more irrelevant they will become as the world moves on, freed from the moral and cognitive shackles of Obama’s intellectual legacy.

The U.S. Is Quietly Sidelining a Turkey in Decline

Originally Published in Breitbart.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump had a long talk with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The telephone call came in the wake of Erdogan’s most recent demonstration of the fact that under his leadership, the Turkish-American alliance has become an empty shell.

Over his 15 years in power, Erdogan has gutted what had been a substantive, mutually beneficial and strategic alliance between the two countries since the dawn of the Cold War.

Last Saturday, Erdogan sent his forces over Turkey’s southern border to invade the Afrin region of Syria. The U.S.-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have controlled the area, northwest of Aleppo, since 2012.

There are no U.S. forces in Afrin. But the area is predominantly populated by non-Arab minorities, including Yazidis, Armenians, and Kurds — all of whom are pro-American.

The Turks say their objective in “Operation Olive Branch” is to seize a 20-mile wide buffer zone on the Syrian side of their border. That includes the town of Manbij, located a few hundred miles east of Afrin, also controlled by the YPG.

Unlike Afrin, there are many U.S. forces in that city. A contingent of U.S. Special Forces charged with training YPG forces are stationed there. On Tuesday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu threatened those forces. “Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots,” he said, according to Reuters. “If the United States doesn’t stop this, we will stop this.”

Cavusoglu added, “The future of our relations depends on the step the United States will take next.”

The Turks’ pretext for the Afrin operation is as anti-American as it is anti-Kurdish.

On January 14, Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition in Baghdad said that the U.S. is training a Kurdish border patrol force in Syria that will eventually number some 30,000 troops. On January 17, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. has no timetable for removing its forces from Syria.

In response, Erdogan vowed to “drown” the border protection force “before it is even born.”

Erdogan then threatened the U.S.

“This is what we have to say to all our allies: Don’t get in between us and terrorist organizations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences.”

The Trump administration’s immediate response to Turkey’s aggression against its Kurdish allies was deferential, to say the least.

Tillerson disavowed Dillon’s statement, saying the plan to train a border fence was never approved. “That entire situation has been misportrayed, misdescribed. Some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all.”

A senior White House official told the New York Times that senior White House and National Security Council officials had never seriously considered the 30,000-man border force.

These statements are consistent with the U.S.’s general practice for the past 15 years, as Erdogan has gradually transformed Turkey from a Westernized democracy and a core member of NATO into an Islamist tyranny whose values and goals have brought it into alliance with U.S. foes Iran and Russia and into cahoots with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and ISIS. The U.S. has met ever more extreme behavior from Ankara with a combination of denial and obsequiousness.

For example, the U.S. never sanctioned Turkey for its support for HezbollahHamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The U.S. didn’t penalize Turkey for its effective sponsorship of ISIS. For years, the Turks permitted ISIS to use their territory as its logistical base. ISIS’s foreign recruits entered Syria through Turkey. Its terrorists received medical care in Turkey. Turkey was the main purchaser of oil from ISI- controlled territory and there were repeated allegations that ISIS was receiving arms from Turkey.

And the U.S. turned a blind eye.

While many have expressed alarm over Turkey’s decision to purchase an S-400 surface to air missile system from Moscow, particularly given that Turkey has ordered 100 F-35s, all of which are endangered by the S-400, no U.S. official has taken any steps to expel Turkey from NATO.

The report of Trump’s conversation with Erdogan can be read in several ways. On the one hand, Trump urged Erdogan to “de-escalate” the operation in Afrin. Trump argued that the Turkish operation is harming the broader coalition campaign against ISIS in Syria.

Trump reportedly urged “Turkey to de-escalate, limit its military actions and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees,” as well as to “exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”

On the other hand, Trump was respectful of Turkey’s claim that the U.S.-supported YPG is linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, which Turkey says is a terror group, and which the State Department has listed as a terror group.

The YPG has been the US’s most loyal and effective partner in the battle against ISIS in Syria. The US rejects Turkey’s allegation that the militia is a terror group. Still, Trump reportedly agreed that the PKK is a terror group and the White House’s statement regarding the two men’s conversation said the US seeks “regional stability and combating terrorism in all its forms,” including ISIS, al Qaeda, Iranian-sponsored terrorism and the PKK.

So what was Trump’s message?

Trump’s conversation with Erdogan appeared to be an attempt to bridge the yawning gap between the US’s policy of supporting and working with the Kurds in Syria and its deference for Erdogan and his regime.

The read-out of their conversation also reflected the distinct possibility that the Trump administration is implementing a sophisticated strategy for contending with Erdogan’s Turkey and its open and growing hostility to the US and its allies.

To understand that strategy it is first imperative to understand the present state of Turkey’s military.

While it is true that Turkey’s military is second only to the U.S. in size among NATO allies, the state of the Turkish military is atrocious. As former Pentagon official Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute wrote this week in the Washington Examiner, Erdogan has gutted his armed forces in the wake of the failed military coup against his regime in July 2016.

Forty percent of Turkey’s senior officer corps has been purged. A quarter of Turkish pilots are in prison. Turkey has twice as many F-16s as trained pilots.

Turkey’s performance in combat in Syria has been abysmal, from the very earliest stages of the war. Rubin noted that in 2012 Syrian forces downed a Turkish F-4, and Kurds have downed Turkish helicopters.

Syria has been a prime killing ground for Turkish tanks. Kurds, ISIS and Syrian regime forces have all destroyed Turkish tanks. The Kurds have nabbed Turkish intelligence officers. Turkey’s power projection capabilities are weak.

None of this has escaped the Pentagon’s notice.

Last summer, as the U.S. launched its campaign to oust ISIS from its self-declared capital in Raqqa, Erdogan told the Americans that he would deploy his forces to fight alongside U.S. forces in Raqqa if the U.S. agreed to ditch the Kurdish YPG. The U.S. refused. Washington opted to side with the Kurds.

According to a report in the Washington Examiner, the Pentagon has a low opinion of Turkish capabilities. Turkish troops lack “the training, logistics and weaponry to successfully launch the siege of a fortified and well-defended city.”

On the other hand, the Pentagon assessed that the YPG were up to the task of assaulting and destroying ISIS forces in Raqqa. And as the battle of Raqqa demonstrated, they were right.

Rubin wrote that the Kurds in Afrin may well defeat the Turks.

So far, the Turks initial push has been unsuccessful.

While the U.S. has consistently treated Erdogan with respect, it has also sought to diminish U.S. dependence on Turkey.

Consider the issue of the NATO airbase at Incirlik, Turkey.

The Turks view Incirlik as their insurance policy. NATO air operations in Syria are coordinated from Incirlik. Most of the anti-ISIS coalition warplanes are based there. So long as NATO is dependent on Incirlik, so the thinking goes, Turkey can behave as abominably as it wishes.

So it was that following the failed coup in July 2016, Erdogan shut down Incirlik and paralyzed the coalition campaign against ISIS.

Erdogan failed to realize that his actions forced NATO allies to reconsider Turkey’s role in the alliance.

The U.S. responded to Erdogan’s move against Incirlik by expanding its air operations in Romania. And last summer, Germany’s Die Welt reported that the German military had identified eight alternatives to Incirlik, including three sites each in Kuwait and Jordan and two in Cyprus.

So while the stated policy of the U.S. towards Turkey is to continue to treat Turkey as an ally, the unstated U.S. policy is to bypass Turkey and render it irrelevant militarily while diminishing its capacity to harm either the U.S. or its allies.

This unstated policy is evidenced by the way the Pentagon responded to Turkey’s invasion of Afrin. Rather than disavow the plan to build a Kurdish border protection force, the Pentagon doubled down, and simply relabled it a “local security force.”

Pentagon and Central Command spokesmen and commanders also praised the Kurds for their key role in the campaign against ISIS.

“Our [Kurdish] partners are still making daily progress and sacrifices, and together we are still finding, targeting and killing ISIS errorists intent on keeping their extremist hold on the region,” Major General James Jarrard, the commander of Special Operations forces in Iraq and Syria, said in a statement.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, for his part, has been the most outspoken in his criticism of the Turkish operation. Mattis told reporters Tuesday that the Turkish operation helps ISIS and al Qaeda.

It “distracts from the international efforts to ensure the defeat of ISIS. This could be exploited by ISIS and Al-Qaeda obviously, that we’re not staying focused on them right now,” Mattis said.

The U.S. has no interest in an open breach with Turkey. Any such breach will only strengthen Erdogan’s position at home and in the wider region. And given Turkey’s military weakness and the Kurds’ military power, America’s best bet is to keep its head down as Turkey insults it, while supporting the Kurds on the ground as they supplant the Turks as America’s partners in the field.

Rather than express dismay as Turkey moves further and further into the Russian-Iranian camp and away from the U.S., the administration can simply shrug its shoulders and let the chips fall. In this context, it makes sense that the administration did not try to prevent Turkey from purchasing the S-400 anti-aircraft system, which endangers the F-35 program.

Rather than trying to convince Erdogan not to walk out of NATO by rendering his weapons systems incompatible with NATO systems, last November, Assistant Undersecretary of Defense for International Affairs Heidi Grant simply let it be known that Turkey’s decision would have consequences for its planned purchase of 100 F-35s.

Speaking to Defense News, Grant said that the Turks “are a sovereign nation. They can choose to go with other partners. But I have made it very clear that it makes it a little more difficult for our partnership as a coalition because we will not be interoperable. As of right now, our current policies are, we would not be interoperable with Russian equipment.”

Turkey’s invasion of Afrin, like so many of its other actions in recent months and years, make it clear that it can no longer be considered a U.S. ally.

And a close examination of the Trump administration’s actions and statements indicate that not only is the U.S. no longer treating Turkey like an ally. It is also taking steps to neutralize the threat Turkey poses to American interests while cultivating a new alliance with the Kurds that will survive Turkey’s current slide into irrelevance and grow stronger in the coming years.


Jordan’s King Abdullah Disrespects America — Because He Can


Vice President Mike Pence met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan on Sunday and praised the U.S.-Jordan alliance. In particular, Pence applauded Jordan’s role in the campaign that defeated the Islamic State caliphate in Syria and Jordan.

Abdullah was less enthusiastic.

Sitting next to Pence, Abdullah reinstated his outspoken opposition to President Donald Trump’s December 6 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and committing the U.S. to moving its embassy to Jerusalem, in accordance with U.S. law.

Last month, Abdullah attacked Trump’s move and referred to it as “null and void.” In the weeks that followed Trump’s December 6 announcement, Abdullah went to Europe to lobby European governments to oppose the American move.

At least in part as a result of Abdullah’s lobbying efforts, U.S. allies like Britain and France were among the 178 nations, including Jordan, that voted on December 21 for the U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning America for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Sitting with Pence Sunday, Abdullah said, “Today we have a major challenge to overcome, especially with some of the rising frustrations” in the wake of Trump’s move on Jerusalem.

He said the goal of Pence’s trip must be “to rebuild trust and confidence” in America’s commitment to establishing a Palestinian state.

The most notable aspect of Abdullah’s role in the campaign to castigate Trump’s policy towards Jerusalem is that he owes his regime’s survival to the U.S. and Israel.

The U.S. provides Jordan with more than $1.5 billion a year in military and civilian aid. The Trump administration has pledged to maintain aid levels in 2018.

As Jordan expert David Schenker noted in a briefing last September, Jordan is one of the poorest states in the Arab world. Only a quarter of its adult population is gainfully employed.

Israel ensures the regime’s survival by providing Jordan with water and natural gas.

There are more than 2,800 U.S. troops in Jordan. U.S. forces in Jordan use the kingdom as a base for anti-ISIS operations in Syria and Iraq. They are also tasked with protecting Abdullah’s regime.

Pence’s forbearance of Abdullah’s slights Sunday was in keeping with America’s consistent tolerance for Abdullah’s deeply problematic behavior.

On July 23, 2017, a Jordanian terrorist in Amman tried to stab Ziv Moyal, an Israeli embassy officer, with a screwdriver in Moyal’s apartment adjacent to the Israeli embassy compound. Moyal shot and killed his assailant. He also killed his landlord, who was present at the scene.

Moyal quickly sought refuge at the Israeli embassy. Within moments, all of Israel’s diplomats had converged there to avoid revenge attacks and to evacuate to Israel for safety.

Wild press reports claiming that Moyal had murdered two Jordanians in cold blood brought angry anti-Israel rioters into the streets. Protesters quickly surrounded the embassy compound, and effectively held Israel’s diplomats, including Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, Einat Schlein, hostage.

Under international law, Abdullah was obliged to protect the diplomats. But he refused, for nearly 24 hours.

A few days before the event, Muslim terrorists at the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem murdered three Israeli policemen. Israel responded by installing metal detectors at the entrance to the mosques to make it more difficult for worshippers to smuggle weapons inside the mosques.

Jordan serves as the Islamic administrator of the mosques on the Temple Mount. Rather than support Israel’s move, Abdullah condemned it.

But with Israel’s diplomats in danger, the Trump administration cut a deal with Abdullah to save them. In exchange for an Israeli pledge to remove the metal detectors at the Temple Mount, Abdullah sent his military forces to the embassy to extract the diplomats and enable them to cross the border to Israel.

In other words, to save the lives of Israel’s diplomats, the Trump administration convinced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make concessions to Jordan, which directly benefited terrorists like the ones who murdered the Israeli police officers.

Israel hoped that once the mob had dispersed, Abdullah would allow its diplomats to return and resume normal operations at its embassy, in conformity with the terms of its peace treaty with Jordan. But Abdullah would have none of it.

Abdullah insisted first that Israel replace Ambassador Schlein. Netanyahu finally agreed to replace the senior diplomat in late November. But then Abdullah ratcheted up his demands.

He insisted that Moyal be tried for murder, and that Israel apologize for the incident and compensate the families of the Jordanian landlord and Moyal’s assailant.

Over the weekend, the Jordanian media reported that Israel had accepted its demands. Israel reportedly agreed to pay millions of dollars in restitution to the families and officially apologized.

Netanyahu clarified that the government had “expressed regret” for the lives lost. A government source said Moyal will not be tried for any crime. Israel confirmed that it transferred $5 million to the Jordanian government.

Netanyahu thanked President Trump’s senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and his chief negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, for closing the deal with Abdullah that will enable the Israeli embassy to reopen.

But Abdullah’s refusal to protect Israel’s diplomats was in line with his general support for anti-Israel terrorism.

In 2011, Israel freed more than a thousand convicted Palestinians terrorists to secure the freedom of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli army sergeant who had been held hostage by Hamas in Gaza for more than five years.

Among the terrorists Israel freed was Ahlam Tamimi.

Tamimi masterminded a suicide bombing at the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem in August 2001. Fifteen were killed in the attack, and seven of the dead were young children. Tamimi specifically chose the pizzeria as the target of the bombing because it was a popular place for parents with small children during summer vacation.

Two of her victims were U.S. citizens. One of the 122 people wounded in the attack was an American woman who has been in a vegetative state ever since.

Following her release, Tamimi moved to Amman, where she received a royal welcome from Abdullah’s regime. She was also given a television show. On air, Tamimi routinely calls on her viewers to follow her example and murder Israelis.

In January 2017, the FBI placed Tamimi on its most wanted list. The Department of Justice formally requested her extradition to stand trial for the murder and maiming of U.S. citizens.

Jordan signed an extradition treaty with the US in 1995. Last March, Jordan rejected the U.S. request for Tamimi, claiming the treaty was unratified. The power to ratify treaties in Jordan belongs to the King.

So just in the past ten years, Abdullah has rejected a U.S. extradition request, and has lobbied the Europeans to condemn Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He facilitated the siege of the Israeli embassy. He leveraged a hostage situation to undermine Israel’s counterterrorism efforts at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. He extorted blood money from Israel.

Yet rather than stand up to Abdullah, the Trump administration gives him a pass for everything.

And it has been right to do so.

Because it has no better option.

According to a 2014 Pew survey, 85 percent of Jordanians are anti-American. A 2006 Pew study found that 100 percent of Jordanians are anti-Jewish.

Abdullah and his Hashemite tribe are a minority among Jordan’s Bedouin tribes. And the Bedouin as a whole are a minority in Jordan where, according to the Congressional Research Service, Palestinians make up 55 to 70 percent of the population.

If Abdullah is overthrown, there is little likelihood that a successor regime will be pro-American.

With Abdullah in power, the U.S. is able to project its power from Jordan throughout the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. If the Pentagon concludes that it is necessary to close down its Air Operations Headquarters at Udeid air base in Doha, Qatar, Jordan could serve as the site of a replacement base.

None of this would likely be the case under a different regime. The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest political force in Jordan outside the regime.

So despite his double-dealing, the U.S. is better off supporting Abdullah than abandoning him.

This dismal situation is even more frustrating when you consider that Abdullah is arguably America’s most stable Arab ally.

And that’s the essence of the problem. America’s alliances in the Arab world are with regimes, not with nations. During his tenure in office, George W. Bush tried to overturn the equation with his democracy agenda. The devastating results of his strategy are still haunting the region and the U.S.

So long as majorities reject the values of liberal democracies generally, and hate the U.S. specifically, there is little chance of America leading a democratization movement that will result in anything positive. Minority regimes may make unreliable allies. But popularly elected regimes that embrace bigotry and reject the U.S. and democratic values will reliably be enemies.

In Abdullah’s case, while his dependence on the U.S. ensures his loyalty, his regime is inherently weak because he lacks popular support. To avoid widespread unrest, Abdullah proclaims and occasionally adopts extremist positions against Israel and the US and in favor of terrorists.

Abdullah benefits twice from his hostile policies. On the one hand, he keeps his opponents at bay by satisfying their anti-Americanism and hatred of Israel. On the other hand, by encouraging the public to hate America and Israel, he makes it less likely that any pro-American alternatives to his regime will emerge that could reduce U.S. and Israeli dependence on him personally.

To modify his behavior, the U.S. can and should demand that Abdullah bar anti-American and antisemitic incitement in his state-owned media. He should be required to extradite Tamimi to the U.S. and run programming explaining why she is a terrorist, not a hero.

Such steps can begin to move back the dial of anti-Americanism and antisemitism in Jordan, if only minimally.

Over time, such basic steps may diminish Abdullah’s perceived need to buy off the mob at his gates with pro-terror policies and reduce America’s need to accept his double-dealing, as Pence was forced to do on Sunday in Amman.

Originally Published in BREITBART.

Trump kicks the Palestinian habit

It was probably a coincidence that US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley hailed the Iranian anti-regime protesters and threatened to end US financial support for UNRWA – the UN Palestinian refugee agency – and the Palestinian Authority more generally in the same briefing. But they are integrally linked.

It is no coincidence that Hamas is escalating its rocket attacks on Israel as the Iranian regime confronts the most significant domestic challenge it has ever faced.

As IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said this week, Iranian assistance to Hamas is steadily rising. Last August, Hamas acknowledged that Iran is its greatest military and financial backer. In 2017, Iran transferred $70 million to the terrorist group.

Eisenkot said that in 2018, Iran intends to transfer $100m. to Hamas.

If Iran is Hamas’s greatest state sponsor, UNRWA is its partner. UNRWA is headquartered in Gaza. It is the UN’s single largest agency. It has more than 11,500 employees in Gaza alone. UNRWA’s annual budget is in excess of $1.2 billion. Several hundred million each year is spent in Gaza.

The US is UNRWA’s largest funder. In 2016, it transferred more than $368m. to UNRWA.

For the past decade, the Center for Near East Policy Research has copiously documented how UNRWA in Gaza is not an independent actor. Rather it is an integral part of Hamas’s regime in Gaza.

UNRWA underwrites the jihadist regime by paying for its school system and its healthcare system, among other things. Since 1999, UNRWA employees have repeatedly and overwhelmingly elected Hamas members to lead their unions.

In every major missile campaign Hamas has carried out against Israel since the group seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, UNRWA facilities have played key roles in its terrorist offensives. Missiles, rockets and mortars have been stored in and fired from UNRWA schools and clinics.

UNRWA teachers and students have served as human shields for Hamas missile launches against Israel.

UNRWA ambulances have been used to ferry weapons, including mortars, and terrorists.

UNRWA officials have served as Hamas mouthpieces in their propaganda war against Israel.

In the UNRWA school curriculum, the overwhelming message in nearly every class, and nearly every textbook, is that students should seek martyrdom in jihad against Israel. They should strive to destroy the Jewish state.

Hamas’s youth group, which provides children’s military training and jihadist indoctrination, gathers at UNRWA schools.

Despite repeated demands by the US Congress, and the passage of US laws requiring UNRWA to bar Hamas members from working for the agency, UNRWA administrators have insisted for more than a decade that they have no way to conduct such screening. Yet rather than cut off US funding for the agency, successive US administrations have increased funding for UNRWA every year.

Given all of this, Hamas is comfortable using Iran’s $100m. to build attack tunnels and missile launchers, because it trusts that the US and other UNRWA donor countries will continue to underwrite its regime through UNRWA.

If the US cuts off its assistance, then at least some of Iran’s money will have to be diverted to teachers’ salaries.

Hamas’s recently escalating rocket attacks on Israel may be happening because Iran wishes to deflect international attention away from its plan to brutally suppress the anti-regime protesters at home.

So the more Hamas is financially squeezed by the US and other UNRWA funders, the more likely any Hamas-Iran war plans being advanced now will be placed on the back burner.

So whether or not Haley realized it, her statement on cutting off US funding to Hamas strengthened the anti-regime protesters against the regime.

Those protesters, of course are demanding that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his henchmen stop raiding Iran’s treasury to finance Hezbollah, Hamas and Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria.

Haley’s comments, as well as President Donald Trump’s follow-on threat to end US funding of the PA, were more than a blow to Hamas. They marked end of the past 25 years of US-Palestinian relations.

For the past generation, the bipartisan position of all US administrations has been that the US must support the Palestinians unconditionally. The Obama administration did not differ from George W. Bush’s administration on that score. The main difference between the Obama and Bush administrations was Obama’s hostility toward Israel, not his knee-jerk support for the Palestinians.

The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations provided the Palestinians unstinting and unconditional support, despite the fact that the Palestinians never abided by any of their expectations. They never embraced the cause of peace. Indeed, the supposedly moderate ruling Fatah faction that controls the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, and has accepted billions of dollars in US aid since 1994, doesn’t even recognize Israel’s right to exist. Fatah remains deeply involved in committing terrorism.

And the Fatah-controlled PA has sponsored, incited, financed and rewarded terrorists and terrorism since it was established under US sponsorship in 1994.

When the Palestinians last voted for their governmental representatives in 2006, they flummoxed Bush and his secretary of state Condoleezza Rice by electing Hamas to run their affairs. Rather than accept that the Palestinians were uninterested in peace and cut them off, Rice and Bush chose to pretend their vote just meant they didn’t like Fatah corruption.

A year later, after US-trained and -armed Fatah security forces cut and ran when Hamas gunmen opened fire on them in Gaza, the US didn’t cut off its support for Fatah’s security forces. The US massively expanded that support.

As for Hamas-controlled Gaza, Rice responded to Gaza’s transformation into the Palestinian equivalent of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan by immediately raising US financial support for UNRWA by $40m. and pretending that the money would not benefit Hamas.

After that, both the Bush and Obama administrations touted UNRWA as an independent counterforce to Hamas, despite the fact that their protestations were demonstrably false and indeed, entirely absurd.

In this context, Abbas and his deputies had every reason to believe they could initiate anti-American resolutions at the UN in response to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and face no consequences. It made sense as well for them to boycott administration officials in retaliation for Trump’s Jerusalem policy and assume that the US would continue to finance them.

The Trump administration’s threat to cut off funding to UNRWA and the PA does not point to a new US policy toward the Palestinians. It simply makes clear that unlike all of its predecessors, Trump’s support for the Palestinians is not unconditional.

As Trump, Haley and other senior officials have made clear, they are still trying to put together their policy for the Palestinians. And this is where Israel needs to come into the picture.

IT IS important to recall that the US’s unconditional support for the Palestinians across three administrations was the result not of a US decision, but an Israeli one. It was Israel under the Rabin-Peres government, not the US under then-president Bill Clinton, that decided to recognize the PA in 1993 and give Yasser Arafat and his deputies control of Gaza and the Palestinian towns and cities in Judea and Samaria. If Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres hadn’t decided to abandon the then-ongoing US peace talks that excluded the PLO in favor of Norwegian talks with the PLO, the US would probably not have embraced the PLO.

Now that the Trump administration is abandoning its predecessors’ policy, the time has come for Israel to offer it an alternative. This week, the government and the governing Likud party took two steps toward doing just that.

On Sunday, the Likud central committee passed a resolution unanimously that called for Israel to apply its law to the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. Although the resolution was declarative, and does not obligate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it points toward the policy that either this government or its successor will likely adopt.

In both the 2013 and 2015 elections, facing the hostile Obama administration, Netanyahu refused to run on any platform other than his personal credibility. With the Likud resolution, and with a Trump administration interested in considering alternatives to the failed policies of its predecessors, Netanyahu can be expected (and should be urged) to pledge to implement his party’s policy if reelected.

On Monday, the Knesset passed an amendment to the Basic Law: Jerusalem. The amended law protects Israel’s sovereignty over the territory now within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries while permitting the government to take some of that territory out of the municipal boundaries. The idea is that some Arab villages now within the city limits will be given their own local councils.

Today, for political reasons, Arab residents of Jerusalem refuse to vote in municipal elections. Consequently, they have effectively disenfranchised themselves. By providing them with separate local councils while ensuring that they will remain governed by Israel’s liberal legal code, the Knesset provided a model for future governance of the Palestinian population centers in Judea and Samaria.

In response to Haley’s and Trump’s threats to cut off funding to the PA and UNRWA, Rice’s Israeli counterpart, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, wrote on Twitter that the government should lobby Trump to maintain funding. In her words, “A responsible and serious government would sit quietly and discretely with the US president and explain the Israeli interest.”

Livni maintained that interest remains what it was when she backed Rice’s decision to expand US funding to Hamas-controlled UNRWA and the feckless US-trained Fatah security forces.

Luckily, like the Trump administration, Israel’s government today recognizes that repeating the failures of its predecessors makes no sense.

The Likud’s resolution on Judea and Samaria and the Knesset’s amendment to the Basic Law: Jerusalem represent the beginning of a new Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

If the Trump administration follows Israel’s lead, as the Clinton administration followed its lead in 1993, then the new era in US policy toward the Palestinians won’t be limited to ending US unconditional support for the PLO and through UNRWA, Hamas.

A new US policy will involve providing the Palestinians the means to govern themselves while enjoying the protections of Israeli law. It will involve ending US support for Palestinian sponsorship and finance of terrorism. It will involve securing Israel’s borders, security and national rights. And of course it will involve kicking Iran out of Gaza and out of the Levant more generally.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post


Why abandoning Netanyahu will not end well for the Israeli Right.

It is an iron rule of Israeli politics regularly disregarded by the political Right that left-wing parties govern from the Left, not the Right; center-left parties govern from the Left, not from the Center.

Despite the axiomatic nature of this rule, time after time, politicians and public figures on the Right have ignored it. Periodically, they make light of the distinction between governments run by their political camp and governments run by their leftist opponents.

To their credit, the converse is never true. Leftist politicians and activists never delude themselves that they are better off in the opposition. They always prefer governments led by their own camp to governments led by the Right.
For several years, this pathology unique to the political Right laid dormant – never entirely gone, but out of sight. Today, the Right’s pathological refusal to recognize that it is better off in charge than in the opposition is making a political comeback.

For the past month, a rapidly growing chorus of columnists and politicians – all of whom dwell on either the right-wing or left-wing margins of the nationalist camp – have decided to join the Left in its assault against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and call either directly or indirectly from his ouster from office.

The Left – like its rightist followers – characterizes its anti-Netanyahu campaign as an anti-corruption campaign.

For the past several months, Netanyahu has been the subject of two dubious criminal probes. The first involves allegations that he received too many cigars as gifts from his personal friends. To date, investigators have found no evidence that Netanyahu provided special favors to his friends in exchange for the cigars. We know no evidence indicating the cigars were bribes has been found, because if any had been found, it would have been leaked to reporters just as every shred of even mildly incriminating findings from the probe has been leaked to the media in real-time.

The second investigation is arguably even less substantive. Netanyahu is being investigated for conversations he held in 2014 with his political nemesis Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes. Netanyahu recorded the conversations and they were found on the cellphone of his former chief of staff Ari Harow in the course of a separate criminal probe against Harow for alleged influence peddling. In the recordings, Netanyahu and Mozes discuss the possibility that in exchange for Mozes tamping down his incendiary coverage of Netanyahu at Yediot, Netanyahu’s ally, Sheldon Adelson, would decrease circulation of Israel Hayom, the free daily Adelson owns.

We know that the two men never made a deal because in late 2014, Netanyahu disbanded his own government after his coalition partners voted in favor of a bill drafted by Yediot’s lawyers, that was aimed at shutting down Israel Hayom.

Moreover, during the 2015 election and since, Yediot has led the 24/7 media campaign for Netanyahu’s political destruction.

Given the flimsy nature of the probes, it isn’t surprising that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit isn’t thrilled with them.

Mandelblit’s reported lack of enthusiasm over the probes led leftist political strategist Eldad Yaniv to launch a massive political campaign against him earlier this year.

Several months ago, Yaniv began organizing anti-Netanyahu demonstrations outside Mandelblit’s apartment building in Petah Tikva every Saturday night, demanding that he indict the prime minister.

Not surprisingly, the Netanyahu-obsessed media have given massive and sympathetic coverage to the rallies. Reporters have airbrushed out the protesters’ anti-Zionism while massively exaggerating the number of participants. And while the protests are self-evidently anti-government protests, the media have played along with Yaniv’s conceit that they are apolitical protests by people who simply want to ensure that Netanyahu is indicted because he has to be guilty because they hate him.

The story of Netanyahu’s alleged corruption has led nightly newscasts countless times as breathless reporters present the public with details of investigations that are supposed to be secret. The open bias of police investigators, some of whom have openly called for the public to participate in political rallies against Netanyahu, is ignored.

Recently, the protesters decamped from Petah Tikva to the tony Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. And although most right-wing commentators and politicians acknowledge the leftist agenda of the protesters, last week Yaniv scored a significant victory. Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, one of the rabbinical leaders of the National Religious community, participated in his rally.

Cherlow wasn’t the first public personality on the Right who chose to turn against Netanyahu. Last month rightist attorney and newspaper columnist Nadav Haetzni wrote in Maariv that Netanyahu has become a burden to his political camp and must resign. Last week, Haetzni’s niece Sarah Haetzni Cohen, a columnist at Makor Rishon, and Yehuda Yifrach, Makor Rishon’s legal affairs editor, wrote side-by-side columns arguing that the nationalist camp mustn’t allow the Left to monopolize the fight against public corruption and must support the criminal probes against Netanyahu.

Yoaz Hendel is a columnist at Yediot identified with the soft Right. Ahead of the 2015 election, Tzipi Livni offered soft-rightist Hendel a spot on her leftist Knesset list.

Hendel announced this week that he is organizing an “anti-corruption” rally for members of the nationalist camp at Zion Square in Jerusalem this Saturday night. Since members of the nationalist camp don’t feel comfortable standing with protesters holding massive pro-BDS signs on Rothschild, Hendel said he decided they needed a place of their own to go to show that they don’t like corruption, (or Netanyahu).

Former MK Aryeh Eldad of the National Union Party, and Kulanu MK and coalition member Rahel Azariya, are scheduled to participate at Hendel’s protest.

The members of the nationalist camp insisting Netanyahu is bad for the Right ignore the weak foundations of the probes against him and the political bias of police investigators. They ignore as well the probable consequences for their political camp if Netanyahu is ousted from office due to these investigations.

Some of Netanyahu’s homegrown opponents like Hendel and Azariya are motivated by the belief that Netanyahu is too opposed to the leftist establishment that controls Israel’s legal system. They attack him for not stopping his party members from criticizing Israel’s activist, post-Zionist Supreme Court justices and for calling out police investigators and journalists for their bias against him.

Others, including Yifrach and Eldad, argue that Netanyahu isn’t much of a rightist since he hasn’t actively expanded construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and has not enacted significant court reform.

We’ve been here before.

The same groups from the soft and hard Right joined together twice before to overthrow right-wing governments and hand the Left the keys to the realm.

In 1992, the far-right Tehiya party brought down the government of Yitzhak Shamir. Tehiya leaders Geula Cohen and Hanan Porat on the one hand justified their behavior by pointing to the Left’s allegations that Shamir and his Likud colleagues were corrupt. On the other hand, they claimed that Shamir’s agreement to participate in then-US president George H.W. Bush’s “peace conference” in Madrid meant that he was no better than the Left.

Their action facilitated convinced enough right-wing voters that there was no difference between the Likud and Labor to bring about the Labor Party’s electoral victory in the 1992 election. A year later, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin recognized the PLO and initiated the Oslo peace process.

In 1999, the Likud’s soft-right and hard-right establishment bolted Netanyahu’s first government and formed new parties. Dan Meridor, Yitzhak Mordechai and Roni Milo left Likud and joined with leftist politicians to form the “Center Party.”

Bennie Begin abandoned his father Menachem Begin’s party to form the National Union party with far-right ideologues.

Neither of the two parties fared well in the 1999 election.

But together, they brought down Netanyahu’s government and facilitated the Left’s electoral victory and Ehud Barak’s replacement of Netanyahu as premier.

In other words, the soft Right and the hard Right paved the way for the Camp David summit and the Palestinian terrorist war that followed, as well as Israel’s surrender of south Lebanon to Hezbollah. Those events in turn brought about Israel’s surrender of Gaza and northern Samaria to the Palestinians.

Both in 1992 and 1999, the Left based its electoral campaigns on opposition to corruption and tough talk on terrorism. Rabin pledged in 1992 never to recognize the PLO or withdraw from the Golan Heights. The next year he recognized the PLO and the year after that he offered Syrian dictator Hafez Assad the Golan Heights.

In 1999 Barak assured voters that there was no possibility of reaching a permanent peace with the PLO. A year later, he offered Yasser Arafat the Temple Mount and half of Jerusalem.

We can see the same situation forming today. As prejudicial leaks from the investigation of Netanyahu’s cigars multiplied, and Yaniv received more and more air time for his anti-Netanyahu rallies, Labor leader Avi Gabbay made a series of centrist statements to the media. Last month he said he doesn’t support uprooting Israeli communities in the framework of a peace treaty. This month he said that the Left made a mistake by embracing atheism.

Yair Lapid, head of the center-left Yesh Atid party, for his part has been going out of his way to court the Right for more than a year.

In other words, like Rabin and Barak in 1992 and 1999, the Left’s two contenders for premiership are going out of their way to make members of today’s nationalist camp feel comfortable overthrowing Netanyahu while protesting their ideological purity and commitment to clean politics.

The willingness of ostensibly right-wing intellectuals and politicians to make the same mistake for a third time is stunning. If Netanyahu is forced from office for receiving lots of cigars from his friends, the Likud won’t be stronger without him. An ugly battle for succession in Likud among equally uncompelling politicians will immediately ensue.

The Likud will enter the early election frayed, with a weak leader, under the pall of Netanyahu’s forced resignation.

For their part, the leftist parties, with the full support of the media that will hide their radical Knesset candidates list, will present themselves as incorruptible, moderate centrists who are tough on security and nice to poor people.

And they will win.

Yaniv, Gabbay, Lapid and the media all know that they cannot overthrow the government. They know the government will only fall if its members bring it down.

And that’s where the right-wing intellectuals come in handy. By falling yet again for the Left’s Three-card Monte corruption trick, right-wing media personalities are leading a campaign that if successful, will lead to only one outcome: the rise of the Left. And again, once it is in power, the Left never ever governs from the Right.

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post


But will the Palestinians agree to it?

MondayThe New York Times published the Palestinian response to an alleged Saudi peace plan. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly presented it to PLO chief and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas last month.
According to the Times’ report, Mohammed told Abbas he has two months to either accept the Saudi proposal or leave office to make way for a new Palestinian leader who will accept it.
The Palestinians and their European supporters are up in arms about the content of Mohammed’s plan. It reportedly proposes the establishment of limited Palestinian sovereignty over small portions of Judea and Samaria. The Gaza Strip, over which the Palestinians have had full sovereignty since Israel pulled its military forces and civilians out in 2005, would be expanded into the northern Sinai, thus providing economic and territorial viability to the envisioned Palestinian state. While the Palestinians would not receive sovereignty over Jerusalem, they would be able to establish their capital in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis.
There are several aspects of the alleged Saudi peace plan that are notable. First, the Palestinians and their many allies insist that it is a nonstarter. No Palestinian leader could ever accept the offer and survive in power, they told the Times. The same Palestinian leaders from Hamas and Fatah, and their allies, also noted that the Saudi plan as reported strongly resembles past Israeli proposals.
Another aspect of the report that is notable is that the Saudis did not acknowledge that Mohammed presented the plan to Abbas.
Unlike the situation in 2002 when Times columnist Thomas Friedman presented what he claimed was then Saudi king Abdullah’s peace plan, the Saudi regime has not admitted that the characterization of their peace plan by the Times reflects their thinking.
It makes sense that the Palestinians and their Lebanese and European allies are upset at the alleged contents of the new Saudi plan. It is also reasonable that the Saudis are not willing today to publicly present the plan laid out in the Times.
The fact is that the alleged Saudi peace plan represents a radical break with the all the peace plans presented by the Arabs, the Europeans and the US for the past 40 years.
Unlike all of the previous plans, the contours of the plan reported by the  Times guarantee that Israel will remain a strong, viable state in an era of peace with the Palestinians. All the previous plans required Israel to accept indefensible borders that would have invited aggression both from the Palestinians and from its Arab neighbors east of the Jordan River.
The purported Saudi plan is the first peace plan that foresees two viable states living in peace. All the other plans were based on transforming Israel into a non-viable state with a non-viable Palestinian state in its heartland.
While the Times report cites Western sources claiming that Egypt has rejected the prospect of merging Gaza with the northern Sinai under Palestinian sovereignty, there is no reason to assume that the option is dead. To the contrary, in the aftermath of last week’s massacre of 305 Muslim worshipers in a mosque in the northern Sinai, it is arguably more relevant now than at any previous time.
The mosque massacre makes clear that the Egyptian regime is incapable of defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency in Sinai on its own. Egypt’s incapacity is as much a function of economic priorities as military capabilities. With Egypt constantly on the brink of economic collapse and in need of constant support from the World Bank, the US and the Gulf States, it is hard to make the argument for preferring economic investment in Sinai to economic investment west of the Suez Canal. And in the absence of significant economic support for developing the Sinai, it is hard to see an end to the ISIS insurgency.
If the Europeans, Americans and Arab League member states chose to develop the northern Sinai for a Palestinian state with half the enthusiasm they have devoted to building a non-viable Palestinian state in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria that would render Israel indefensible and enfeebled, the Palestinians would have a viable, developed state in short order.
And the Egyptians in turn would have the international support they need both economically and militarily to defeat ISIS completely and to rebuild their national economy. Indeed, as advocates of the plan note, by yielding control over the northern Sinai to the Palestinians, and so enabling a viable Palestinian state to form, Egypt would become again the indisputable leader of the Arab world. With the good will of the Europeans and Americans, Sisi would secure Egypt’s position indefinitely.
This then brings us to the third notable aspect of the purported Saudi plan. The backlash against the plan, like the backlash against Mohammed, has been furious. Abbas has reportedly been calling every international leader he can think of to oppose the deal. The Europeans reportedly also oppose it. French President Emmanuel Macron’s adviser reportedly contacted the Americans to make clear that the French are not on board with the proposal.
And whereas the opposition to Mohammed’s purported proposal has been largely behind the scenes, since Mohammed did not make it public, the Palestinians and their international supporters have been grabbing every available microphone to condemn US President Donald Trump’s reported plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and perhaps begin taking concrete steps to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
With or without a public announcement of his alleged peace plan, Mohammed has become a hated figure in wide circles of the foreign policy establishment in the West due to his trenchant opposition to Iran’s rise as a hegemonic power in the region. The Times portrayed him as a serial bungler in its article about his alleged peace plan.
As Lee Smith revealed in a recent article in Tablet magazine, the voices leading the charge against Mohammed are the same ones that developed the media echo chamber in pursuit of then president Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
As Smith explained, the onslaught against Mohammed is “an information campaign designed to protect the pro-Iran policies of the Obama administration.”
As these operatives see it, Smith argues, Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is the foundation of Obama’s foreign policy legacy in the Middle East. “If Trump pulls the plug, then Obama’s ‘legacy’ in the Middle East collapses.”
Trump’s visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia in May made clear that renewing US alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel, and using them as a means to scale back Iranian power in the region, is in fact the central plank of his Middle East policy. Trump’s subsequent moves in support of Mohammed and Israel have reinforced this conclusion.
And so the backlash against Mohammed by the likes of former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Robert Malley, Obama’s former adviser for the Middle East on his national security council makes sense. If they can discredit him, and pretend that an Iranian-controlled Lebanon and Syria are better than the alternatives, then they can force Trump to maintain faith with Obama’s policies.
It’s a hard sell though. Mohammed’s peace plan is the first peace plan that has ever offered the Palestinians a chance at a real state. It’s the first plan that ever envisioned a situation where the Palestinians have a state that doesn’t imperil Israel. People who actually care about the Palestinians and Israel should welcome and support his position.
People who oppose it have to explain why they insist on remaining faithful to a peace paradigm that has brought only war and instability. Why do they prefer to retain Abbas’s authoritarian regime over a non-sovereign kleptocracy in Judea and Samaria with a Hamas terrorist state in Gaza to an alternative without either? Why doesn’t Abbas support it if his chief aspiration is the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and actually wants peace with Israel?
The New York Times article may or may not be an accurate portrayal of a real plan presented by the actual crown prince of Saudi Arabia. But if it isn’t his plan, it should be. Or it should be Trump’s plan.
Because it is the first peace plan anyone has ever put forward that makes sense. Not only does it secure the future of both Israel and the Palestinians, it enables Arab states like Saudi Arabia to work openly with Israel to defeat their joint Iranian enemy, while ensuring that Israel can survive and remain a credible ally to its Arab neighbors for decades to come.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

Portents of quagmires in Syria

Putin, Rouhani and Erdogan are right that, as of now, they are the victors in Syria. But let us not empower them by believing them invincible.

Is the war in Syria won? The images broadcast this week from Sochi, the Russian vacation town on the Black Sea coast, were pictures of victory – for the bad guys.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin stood beside his Syrian client, President Bashar Assad, who licked Putin’s boots, as well he should have.

Assad owes his regime and his life to Putin.

The next day, Putin was joined by his allies – the presidents of Iran and Turkey.

Hassan Rouhani and Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the pilgrimage to Sochi to stand at Putin’s side and declare victory in the war and dedicate themselves to the cause of “peace and reconciliation” in post-war Syria.

To achieve their lofty goals of peace and reconciliation, Putin and his partners declared that, in the near future, Sochi will be the sight of a peace conference where all the relevant factions in Syria will be represented. The parley they described is set to take place parallel to – and one assumes at the expense of – the sixth round of Syrian reconciliation talks scheduled to take place under UN auspices next week in Geneva.

Several Israeli commentators viewed Putin’s Sochi talks precisely as he wished them to.

Ehud Yaari, Reshet/Keshet’s veteran Arab affairs commentator declared: The US is finished in the Middle East! The capital of the Middle East is now located in Sochi, he proclaimed in back-to-back newscasts.

In certain respects, Yaari is right. Things are looking good these days for the axis of evil.

Wednesday was a particularly good day for Iran. Not only did Rouhani do his victory dance with Putin and Erdogan, but as they were showering themselves in triumph in Sochi, Iran’s Lebanese puppet, Saad Hariri, was returning to Beirut after his misadventures in Saudi Arabia.

As expected, Hariri canceled the resignation he announced dramatically a week-and-a-half earlier in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after accusing Iran and its Hezbollah army of controlling Lebanon.

On the surface, Hariri’s return is a boon for Iran. If he had remained in Saudi Arabia, Iran would have lost its fig leaf.

Hariri’s duty as prime minister is to snow the West into believing that his government and the Lebanese Armed Forces are a counterweight to Iran and Hezbollah, even though they are controlled by Iran and Hezbollah.

Until his trip to Riyadh, Hariri had been doing a good job.

Hariri’s lobbying efforts won Lebanon billions of dollars in US military and civilian aid. Congress would never have agreed to appropriate the assistance if Hariri hadn’t been so persuasive.

But it is far from clear that Hariri will be much of a fig leaf after he let the Iranian/Hezbollah cat out of the bag in Riyadh.

A rising chorus of US lawmakers are demanding an immediate end to US assistance to the LAF. And Hariri’s return to Beirut didn’t dim those voices.

In August, Hariri visited President Donald Trump at the White House. Trump praised Lebanon as “an ally” in the war on terrorism. He increased US aid to the LAF and deployed US special forces to Lebanon where they fought at the side of the LAF under effective Hezbollah command.

It’s hard to imagine Trump welcoming Hariri back to the White House anytime soon.

As for Erdogan, he arrived in Sochi a spent force.

Erdogan is perhaps the biggest loser of the war in Syria. He was the principal sponsor of the anti-Assad opposition that morphed into Islamic State. Erdogan’s cooperation owes mainly to his lack of better options. The US stopped supporting his campaign in Syria two years ago.

Since the failed military coup against him in July 2016, Erdogan has become ever more hostile to the US. This hostility informed his recently concluded deal with Putin to purchase Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft system. The S-400 threatens every fighter craft in the US arsenal. US officials have responded to his move by seriously considering the possibility of canceling the sale of 100 F-35s to Turkey.

Turkish expulsion from NATO – once a taboo subject – is now regularly discussed in Washington policy circles.

The main reason Erdogan has sided with Putin in Syria is because the US has sided with Syria’s Kurds. Erdogan views the Syrian Kurds as a threat to the stability of his regime. He expects Putin to support his determination to destroy Kurdish autonomy in Syria.

If Putin fails to meet his expectations, Erdogan may abandon his new friends. Or he may stick with them and just become ever more dependent on Putin.

Whatever the case, he won’t be empowered by his membership in Pax Putin.

And this brings us to Putin and Russia.

Certainly it is true that the Sochi summitry has cemented Putin’s position as savior of Mother Russia.

A mere generation ago, Russia was a washed up, fifth-rate power. At the end of the Cold War, the world belonged to America. Today, world leaders beat a path to Putin’s door.

But not everything is roses and sunshine.

Russia’s alliance with Iran and Turkey is predicated on Russia remaining in Syria – come what may.

And what is coming is not likely to be pretty.

While Putin, Erdogan and Rouhani were congratulating themselves in Sochi, another conference was happening in Riyadh. There, leaders of the anti-Assad militia were meeting to discuss their next moves ahead of the UN-sponsored talks next week in Geneva.

True, the forces represented in Saudi Arabia aren’t as powerful as the Iranians, Hezbollah and Russia. But they have guns. And they are disgruntled. And if any number of governments want to give them more guns, they will have more guns and bullets. And they will shoot them at the people keeping Assad in power.

Commentators declaring the dawn of a Russian-controlled Middle East where the US is dead to rites ignore another basic fact. There are a lot of US forces in Syria.

In late October, US Major General James Jarrard, commander of the US’s anti-ISIS task force in Iraq and Syria, “accidentally” told reporters that there are 4,000 US troops in Syria. When reporters pounced on his statement, Jarrard quickly backtracked and said he made a mistake.

There are only 500 US forces in Syria.

Whoopsie daisy.

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the administration does not intend to withdraw US forces from Syria now that the mission against ISIS is largely complete.

US forces in Syria are concentrated in Syrian Kurdistan. If the US protects the Kurdish autonomous areas along the border with Iraq, Erdogan will again lose a big bet in Syria. His alliance with Putin will have brought him nothing but a deterioration of his ties with the US and instability at home as Turkish Kurds expand their ties to the autonomous Syrian brethren.

Angry, unreconciled, well-armed rebel forces and autonomous Kurds are far from the biggest threat to Putin’s victory in Syria. The biggest threat to his triumph is Syria itself.

Thanks in large part to Putin and his allies, Syria, today, is one vast ruin.

According to UN assessments, reconstruction costs for the country will run anywhere from $200 billion-$350b.

Does Putin intend to finance Syrian reconstruction? How about Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or Erdogan or China? Of course not.

And, if Syria remains a ruin, Syria will not be pacified; and, if Syria isn’t pacified, it will continue to bleed.

The media made a big deal about Putin’s phone call to Trump after his meeting with Assad. Some commentators viewed the call as proof Putin is calling the shots in the Middle East. Others saw the opposite – that Putin doesn’t dare move too far ahead of the Americans.

But those views are likely both wrong.

Putin’s record indicates that he cares about two things: reasserting Russia’s great power status and money. For his victory in Syria to avoid becoming a Pyrrhic one, he needs lots of American money to finance Syrian reconstruction.

This brings us to the US, and what Washington wants to do in Syria and the wider Middle East.

So far, the Americans have made every possible mistake in Syria and Iraq.

Then president Barack Obama allowed Assad to commit a genocide of Syria’s Sunnis and foment the refugee crisis in Europe. He allowed Iran and Hezbollah to take over Syria and Iraq. He allowed Erdogan to organize an anti-Assad rebel force dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, which over time morphed into ISIS. He allowed the Russians to use the war as a means to reassert their position in the Middle East 33 years after the Soviets were humiliated and expelled from the Levant.

For his part, Trump has maintained Obama’s Syria policies in relation to Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Assad. He expanded US military assistance to the LAF. He permitted Iranian militias controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to cooperate with US-trained Iraqi forces in seizing Kirkuk from Kurdish forces. In so doing, Trump betrayed the Kurds, the US’s only reliable allies in Iraq.

If the Americans wish to maintain their record of failure, they have many options for doing so. They can abandon the Syrian Kurds. They can help Putin by underwriting Syrian reconstruction.

They can continue to arm the Hezbollah-controlled LAF. But the Americans do have an option to succeed, as well.

If Trump keeps US forces in Syrian Kurdistan, and if he refuses to help pay for Syrian reconstruction so long as Assad remains in power and Iranian and Hezbollah forces remain on the ground and if the US ends its civilian and military assistance to Lebanon, the US and its allies will be strengthened, and Russia and its allies will be weakened.

If the Americans do not interfere as Syrian “freedom fighters” defend against Iranian or Russian “aggression,” it won’t matter what terms the Iranians give Putin for gas, or oil or nuclear deals. He will seek a way out of Syria.

On May 1, 2003, then president George W. Bush landed a S-3 Viking fighter craft on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln dressed in a flight suit. Before an audience of cheering troops and against the backdrop of a banner that read “Mission Accomplished,” Bush declared: “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

A month later, the real Iraq war started.

In the years that followed, probably not a day went by when Bush didn’t regret his victory dance on the USS Lincoln.

Putin, Rouhani and (to a much smaller degree) Erdogan are right that, as of now, they are the victors in Syria. But let us not empower them by believing them invincible. Their victory against ISIS – achieved with massive US assistance – is certainly an achievement. But it isn’t the end of the story. If the Americans do not save them, the situation on the ground augers quagmire, not triumph, for their axis and for their separate regimes.

Originally Posted on the Jerusalem Post.


Obama partisans fret as Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US confront reality on Iran.

Friday, long-time US diplomats and Middle East experts Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky published an article in Foreign Policy expressing “buyers’ remorse” over Saudi Arabia’s newfound willingness to take the lead in regional affairs.

Titled, “Donald Trump has unleashed the Saudi Arabia we always wanted – and feared,” Miller and Sokolsky note that for generations, US policymakers wanted the Saudis to take a lead in determining the future of the region.

In their words, “During decades of service at the State Department, we longed for the day when riskaverse Saudi leaders would take greater ownership in solving their domestic and regional security problems and reduce their dependence on the United States.”

But now, they argue, under the leadership of King Salman and his son, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudis are going too far.

Domestically, Miller and Sokolsky accuse Salman and Mohammed of upsetting the traditional power sharing arrangements among the various princes in order to concentrate unprecedented power in Mohammed’s hands. This, they insist, harms the status of human rights in the kingdom, although they acknowledge that Mohammed has taken steps to liberalize the practice of Islam in the kingdom to the benefit of women and others.

While upset at the purge of princes, ministers and businessmen, Miller and Sokolsky are much more concerned about the foreign policy initiatives Mohammed and Salman have undertaken with everything related to countering Iran’s rise as a regional hegemon.

In their words, “Abroad, the Saudis are engaged in a cold war with an opportunistic Iran that’s exploiting their missteps in Yemen and Qatar.”

Miller and Sokolsky note that Mohammed’s campaign to defeat the Iranian-backed Houthi regime in Yemen has been bogged down. His effort – backed by US President Donald Trump – to force Qatar to abandon its policy of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran has similarly come up short.

They continue, “The latest Saudi gambit – pressuring the Sunni Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign in an effort to expose an Iranian- and Hezbollah- dominated Lebanon – is perhaps too clever by half. What are the Saudis going to do, given their Shiite adversaries’ advantages in Syria and Lebanon, when the Lebanese find themselves plunged into domestic crisis or a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah?” The veteran diplomats conclude their missive by urging Trump to implement his predecessor Barack Obama’s Saudi policy. In their words, Trump needs to place heavy pressure “on the king and his son to de-escalate this conflict and restore equilibrium to America’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

“Because make no mistake,” they warn, “Saudi independence is illusory. Riyadh desperately wants us to back them – and bail them out when they get in over their heads with Iran. If Washington is not careful, the Saudis will sandbag America into standing up to Tehran while the Saudis hide behind its skirt.”

As if synchronized, Robert Malley, Obama’s former Middle East adviser, makes a similar argument in an article in The Atlantic. Malley took a lead role in expanding the US’s ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah during the Obama years.

There are several problems with these policymakers’ claims. The first is that in criticizing the Saudis they deliberately ignore the Obama administration’s central role in engendering the current situation in which the Saudi regime feels compelled to take the actions it is taking.

To be clear, noting the role of the previous administration in causing the rapidly escalating instability of the Middle East is not an exercise in deflecting criticism away from the current administration. The simple fact is that it is impossible for the US to chart a rational course for dealing with the present dangers and opportunities without understanding how they arose in the first place.

For eight years, the Obama administration deliberately alienated and willingly endangered Saudi Arabia and Israel by implementing a policy of appeasing Iran. Despite repeated warnings, the US refused to recognize that as far as Iran is concerned, it cannot have its cake and eat it too.

Iran is at war with Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies and with Israel.

Consequently, Miller and Sokolsky’s claim that there can be an “equilibrium to America’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran” which doesn’t involve the US siding with one side against the other is an illusion. On the ground in the Middle East, as events in Syria, Lebanon, Qatar, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Gaza and Egypt have made clear, Obama’s strategy of appeasing Iran weakened America’s traditional regional allies and strengthened Iran and its proxies.

The change in the balance of forces that the Obama administration’s policy caused forced the US’s spurned allies to reassess their strategic dependence on the US. Contrary to Miller and Sokolsky’s claims, the Saudis didn’t abandon their past passivity because Mohammed is brash, young and inexperienced.

Mohammed was appointed because Salman needed a successor willing and able to fight for the survival of the kingdom after Obama placed it in jeopardy through his appeasement of Iran. Mohammed is the flipside of the nuclear deal.

Malley noted blandly that like the Saudis, Israel has also been sounding alarms at an ever escalating rate.

It isn’t hard to understand why. In 2009, Israel’s borders and territory were far more secure than they are today. Sunday night three former senior missile developers at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems – Israel’s premier missile and missile defense developer – went on television to warn that Haifa’s oil refineries and plans to use surrounding areas as a fuel depot will force the evacuation not only of the population of Haifa, but of all the surrounding satellite cities when war breaks out next with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, they warned, now has the precision missile capability to destroy these vital national infrastructures and render the Gulf of Haifa uninhabitable.

Then there is Syria.

Israel has repeatedly insisted that Iran and its proxies must not be permitted to develop a permanent presence in Syria. Russia and the US ignored Israel’s warnings not only during the Obama years, but, in a sign of the continued power of Obama partisans in the US foreign policy community, during the past year of the Trump administration as well. Over the summer the US and Russia concluded a cease-fire deal for Syria that permitted Iran and its proxies to operate in Syria.

Last week, the BBC reported that Iran is now building a military base 50 kilometers from the border with Israel. On Saturday, the IDF shot down a Russian- made intelligence drone launched against it by forces controlled by Iran’s chief Syrian proxy, Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Sunday, following threats from Iranian-controlled Islamic Jihad terrorist forces in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that Israel will not accept assaults against it across any of its borders.

Netanyahu said that he holds the Iranian-supported Hamas regime in Gaza responsible for any attacks against Israel emanating from its territory.

Netanyahu’s statement was notable since just last week Hamas and Fatah began implementing their power sharing arrangement in Gaza. Fatah forces, controlled by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, supposedly took responsibility for border crossings between Gaza and Israel.

By insisting that Hamas is responsible rather than Fatah, despite the agreement, Netanyahu signaled that as far as Israel is concerned, through its power- sharing deal with Fatah Hamas has succeeded in becoming the Palestinian version of Hezbollah. Just as Hezbollah pretends to be a faction in Lebanese politics, when in fact it controls all aspects of the Lebanese state, so Hamas remains in charge of all aspects of governance in Gaza while using the PA as a fig leaf.

This brings us back to Miller, Sokolsky and Malley and their pining for a reset button.

It is hard to view their positions as the basis for forging constructive US policies for the region, transformed by eight years of US appeasement of Iran at the expense of its allies and interests.

Insisting that Mohammed abandon the steps he has taken to expand the prospects of Saudi survival in favor of a policy of pretending that a stable equilibrium can be struck between Iran and Saudi Arabia (and Israel) is not a policy for restoring equilibrium.

Putting Hariri back in office in Beirut so he can continue to serve as a fig leaf for Hezbollah and Iran is not a policy for restoring equilibrium. They are both means for pretending reality away while enabling Iran to wage a continuous war against America’s allies with ever greater power and capacity.

It makes sense that Obama partisans are unhappy with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed. It makes sense that they are unhappy with Netanyahu and with Trump. All four of these leaders are impudently insisting on basing their policies on recognizing the reality Obama spent his two terms ignoring: Iran is not appeasable.

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post.


What the recent political shakeup in Saudi Arabia means for global terrorism funding.

For 70 years, Saudi Arabia served as the largest and most significant incubator of Sunni jihad. Its Wahhabist Islamic establishment funded radical mosques throughout the world. Saudi princes have supported radical Islamic clerics who have indoctrinated their followers to pursue jihad against the non-Islamic world. Saudi money stands behind most of the radical Islamic groups in the non-Islamic world that have in turn financed terrorist groups like Hamas and al-Qaida and have insulated radical Islam from scrutiny by Western governments and academics. Indeed, Saudi money stands behind the silence of critics of jihadist Islam in universities throughout the Western world.

As Mitchell Bard documented in his 2011 book, The Arab Lobby, any power pro-Israel forces in Washington, DC, have developed pales in comparison to the power of Arab forces, led by the Saudi government. Saudi government spending on lobbyists in Washington far outstrips that of any other nation. According to Justice Department disclosures from earlier this year, since 2015, Saudi Arabia vastly increased its spending on influence peddling. According to a report by The Intercept, “Since 2015, the Kingdom has expanded the number of foreign agents on retainer to 145, up from 25 registered agents during the previous two-year period.”

Saudi lobbyists shielded the kingdom from serious criticism after 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were shown to be Saudi nationals. They blocked a reconsideration of the US’s strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia after the attacks and in subsequent years, even as it was revealed that Princess Haifa, wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington at the time the September 11 attacks occurred, had financially supported two of the hijackers in the months that preceded the attacks.
The US position on Saudi Arabia cooled demonstrably during the Obama administration. This cooling was not due to a newfound concern over Saudi financial support for radical Islam in the US. To the contrary, the Obama administration was friendlier to Islamists than any previous administration. Consider the Obama administration’s placement of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in key positions in the federal government. For instance, in 2010, then secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano appointed Mohamed Elibiary to the department’s Homeland Security Advisory Board. Elibiary had a long, open record of support both for the Muslim Brotherhood and for the Iranian regime. In his position he was instrumental in purging discussion of Islam and Jihad from instruction materials used by the US military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The Obama administration’s cold relations with the Saudi regime owed to its pronounced desire to ditch the US’s traditional alliance with the Saudis, the Egyptians and the US’s other traditional Sunni allies in favor of an alliance with the Iranian regime.

During the same period, the Muslim Brotherhood’s close ties to the Iranian regime became increasingly obvious. Among other indicators, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohamed Morsi hosted Iranian leaders in Cairo and was poised to renew Egypt’s diplomatic ties with Iran before he was overthrown by the military in July 2013. Morsi permitted Iranian warships to traverse the Suez Canal for the first time in decades.

Saudi Arabia joined Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group in 2014.

It was also during this period that the Saudis began warming their attitude toward Israel. Through Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading role in opposing Iran’s nuclear program and its rising power in the Middle East, the Saudis began changing their positions on Israel.

Netanyahu’s long-time foreign policy adviser, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president Dr. Dore Gold, who authored the 2003 bestseller Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism which exposed Saudi Arabia’s role in promoting jihadist Islam, spearheaded a process of developing Israel’s security and diplomatic ties with Riyadh. Those ties, which are based on shared opposition to Iran’s regional empowerment, led to the surprising emergence of a working alliance between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE with Israel during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas – the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is in the context of Saudi Arabia’s reassessment of its interests and realignment of strategic posture in recent years that the dramatic events of the past few days in the kingdom must be seen.

Saturday’s sudden announcement that a new anti-corruption panel headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the near simultaneous announcement of the arrest of more than two dozen royal family members, cabinet ministers and prominent businessmen is predominantly being presented as a power seizure by the crown prince. Amid widespread rumors that King Salman will soon abdicate the throne to his son, it is reasonable for the 32-year-old crown prince to work to neutralize all power centers that could threaten his ascension to the throne.

But there is clearly also something strategically more significant going on. While many of the officials arrested over the weekend threaten Mohammed’s power, they aren’t the only ones that he has purged. In September Mohammed arrested some 30 senior Wahhabist clerics and intellectuals. And Saturday’s arrest of the princes, cabinet ministers and business leaders was followed up by further arrests of senior Wahhabist clerics.

At the same time, Mohammed has been promoting clerics who espouse tolerance for other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. He has removed the Saudi religious police’s power to conduct arrests and he has taken seemingly credible steps to finally lift the kingdom-wide prohibition on women driving.

At the same time, Mohammed has escalated the kingdom’s operations against Iran’s proxies in Yemen.

And of course, on Saturday, he staged the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri amid Hariri’s allegations that Hezbollah and Iran were plotting his murder, much as they stood behind the 2005 assassination of his father, prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

There can be little doubt that there was coordination between the Saudi regime and the Trump administration regarding Saturday’s actions. The timing of the administration’s release last week of most of the files US special forces seized during their 2011 raid of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was likely not a coincidence.

The files, which the Obama administration refused to release, make clear that Obama’s two chief pretensions – that al-Qaida was a spent force by the time US forces killed bin Laden, and that Iran was interested in moderating its behavior were both untrue. The documents showed that al-Qaida’s operations remained a significant worldwide threat to US interests.

And perhaps more significantly, they showed that Iran was al-Qaida’s chief state sponsor. Much of al-Qaida’s leadership, including bin Laden’s sons, operated from Iran. The notion – touted by Obama and his administration – that Shi’ite Iranians and Sunni terrorists from al-Qaida and other groups were incapable of cooperating was demonstrated to be an utter fiction by the documents.

Their publication now, as Saudi Arabia takes more determined steps to slash its support for radical Islamists, and separate itself from Wahhabist Islam, draws a clear distinction between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Given Saudi Arabia’s record, and the kingdom’s 70-year alliance with Wahhabist clerics, it is hard to know whether Mohammed’s move signals an irrevocable breach between the House of Saud and the Wahhabists.

But the direction is clear. With Hariri’s removal from Lebanon, the lines between the forces of jihad and terrorism led by Iran, and the forces that oppose them are clearer than ever before. And the necessity of acting against the former and helping the latter has similarly never been more obvious.

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post