Category: Shoshana Bryen

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Iran's Shaky Foundations


Current U.S. 5th Fleet exercises designed to ensure freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea are a welcome sight.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has spent years extending its claims across the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea. It has sponsored wars and militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen plus terror organizations in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, along with farther-flung activities in Africa and South America. That, plus its huffing and puffing, have made the mullahs look ten feet tall.

  • Iran claims to have designed and built a new jet fighter plane.
  • It  claims security control of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz and threatens to block oil exports from other countries if Iran is constrained by sanctions. Iran has ordered the U.S. Navy out of the Gulf.
  • It announced a military pact with Syria that it claims will give it access to all of Syrian territory.

But the regime is on shaky ground.

  • The “jet fighter plane” in the Iranian video is a 1950s-era American F-5F.
  • The United States Navy is in, and will remain in, the Gulf, and, in fact, the last Iranian harassment of U.S. Navy ships was in mid-2017, after the Navy received orders to respond to unsafe Iranian activity around American ships.
  • The military pact appears mainly a way for Iran to try to recoup its multibillion-dollar losses in Syria by claiming contracts for reconstruction when the war ends. It isn’t clear who the Iranians think will actually pay for reconstruction.
  • And, pact or no pact, Israel is maintaining red lines preventing an Iranian military buildup. Israel has acknowledged some 200 raids into Syria.

Internally, the country faces social and religious rebellion, drought and water mismanagement, and economic instability. This is partially related to the government’s exorbitant expenditures on revolution and terror abroad; it is also related to the increased ability of the Iranian people to know what is outside their borders.

All of this makes the Islamic Republic more, not less, dangerous.

The Iranian government understood it would receive a windfall from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA — the “Iran deal”). It received billions in cash, plus Western investment as sanctions were lifted. But more money simply meant more for weapons and a Shiite mercenary army in Syria; more for Hezb’allah and Hamas; more for the Shiite militias in Iraq; more agents plotting terror in Europe and the U.S. 

Now the cash is gone, and the promise of Western investment is going. Facing the re-imposition of sanctions by the U.S. administration, Total, Maersk, Peugeot, GE, Honeywell, Boeing, Lukoil, Reliance, Dover, and Siemens — among others —  have left or announced they will leave. The expenses, however, remain. Syria costs $15-20 billion annually, more than Iran’s budget deficit of $9.3 billion last year. Prof. Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University measured Iran’s annual inflation rate in late August at 191 percent and rising.

Iran is, in fact, a poor and angry country. And a dry one.

Iran faces a terrible combination of drought and water mismanagement. An Atlantic Council report noted that over 90% of Iran’s water is used in agriculture but “the sector’s efficiency rate was 35%” while the global efficiency rate is 75%. The problem is exacerbated by irrigating during the day and the failure of the government to repair water infrastructure. There are reports of cities without water or taps that run brown. Iranian authorities admitted that at least 13 people were injured in water protests in Khorramshahr.

Technology could help, but Iran can’t/won’t use the best water technology out there — Israel’s. On the contrary — the Iranian government blamed Israel for stealing Iran’s rain. But the people know what’s up. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s YouTube video announcing a Farsi language website to help Iranians learn from Israeli water technology is a whopping success. More than 100,000 Iranians joined the Israeli government’s Telegram account in the first 24 hours.

The willingness of the Iranian people to go to an Israeli site is evidence of the widening divide between the government and the people. “Not for Gaza, not for Syria; my life only for Iran,” is a chant at anti-government demonstrations. “Death to Hamas; death to Hezb’allah,” is another. On September 11, 2018, hundreds — or more — Iranians marched with candles to commemorate the American losses.

Next door, Iraqi Shiites in the southern provinces have been demonstrating against their government for a lack of jobs and services, and against the Iranian presence in their country. They may all be Shiites, but Iraqis are Arab and Iranians are Persian, and a level of historic animosity may be coming to the surface.

Iran’s response has been ever more repression. Minorities, particularly Christians, have suffered, but three Kurdish activists were executed this week, despite pleas from Amnesty International and the UN. Prominent human-rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh sits in the infamous Evin Prison. Twenty-nine women arrested for removing their headscarves have received sentences between two and 20 years, but more are doing it every week. Women have been arrested for dancing as well. Threats don’t appear to have stopped the individual acts of rebellion that accompany larger-scale taxi, truck driver, port worker, farmer, and other protests.

Wild animals become more dangerous as their situation deteriorates. Countries do as well.

Current U.S. 5th Fleet exercises designed to ensure freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea are a welcome sight.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has spent years extending its claims across the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea. It has sponsored wars and militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen plus terror organizations in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, along with farther-flung activities in Africa and South America. That, plus its huffing and puffing, have made the mullahs look ten feet tall.

  • Iran claims to have designed and built a new jet fighter plane.
  • It  claims security control of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz and threatens to block oil exports from other countries if Iran is constrained by sanctions. Iran has ordered the U.S. Navy out of the Gulf.
  • It announced a military pact with Syria that it claims will give it access to all of Syrian territory.

But the regime is on shaky ground.

  • The “jet fighter plane” in the Iranian video is a 1950s-era American F-5F.
  • The United States Navy is in, and will remain in, the Gulf, and, in fact, the last Iranian harassment of U.S. Navy ships was in mid-2017, after the Navy received orders to respond to unsafe Iranian activity around American ships.
  • The military pact appears mainly a way for Iran to try to recoup its multibillion-dollar losses in Syria by claiming contracts for reconstruction when the war ends. It isn’t clear who the Iranians think will actually pay for reconstruction.
  • And, pact or no pact, Israel is maintaining red lines preventing an Iranian military buildup. Israel has acknowledged some 200 raids into Syria.

Internally, the country faces social and religious rebellion, drought and water mismanagement, and economic instability. This is partially related to the government’s exorbitant expenditures on revolution and terror abroad; it is also related to the increased ability of the Iranian people to know what is outside their borders.

All of this makes the Islamic Republic more, not less, dangerous.

The Iranian government understood it would receive a windfall from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA — the “Iran deal”). It received billions in cash, plus Western investment as sanctions were lifted. But more money simply meant more for weapons and a Shiite mercenary army in Syria; more for Hezb’allah and Hamas; more for the Shiite militias in Iraq; more agents plotting terror in Europe and the U.S. 

Now the cash is gone, and the promise of Western investment is going. Facing the re-imposition of sanctions by the U.S. administration, Total, Maersk, Peugeot, GE, Honeywell, Boeing, Lukoil, Reliance, Dover, and Siemens — among others —  have left or announced they will leave. The expenses, however, remain. Syria costs $15-20 billion annually, more than Iran’s budget deficit of $9.3 billion last year. Prof. Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University measured Iran’s annual inflation rate in late August at 191 percent and rising.

Iran is, in fact, a poor and angry country. And a dry one.

Iran faces a terrible combination of drought and water mismanagement. An Atlantic Council report noted that over 90% of Iran’s water is used in agriculture but “the sector’s efficiency rate was 35%” while the global efficiency rate is 75%. The problem is exacerbated by irrigating during the day and the failure of the government to repair water infrastructure. There are reports of cities without water or taps that run brown. Iranian authorities admitted that at least 13 people were injured in water protests in Khorramshahr.

Technology could help, but Iran can’t/won’t use the best water technology out there — Israel’s. On the contrary — the Iranian government blamed Israel for stealing Iran’s rain. But the people know what’s up. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s YouTube video announcing a Farsi language website to help Iranians learn from Israeli water technology is a whopping success. More than 100,000 Iranians joined the Israeli government’s Telegram account in the first 24 hours.

The willingness of the Iranian people to go to an Israeli site is evidence of the widening divide between the government and the people. “Not for Gaza, not for Syria; my life only for Iran,” is a chant at anti-government demonstrations. “Death to Hamas; death to Hezb’allah,” is another. On September 11, 2018, hundreds — or more — Iranians marched with candles to commemorate the American losses.

Next door, Iraqi Shiites in the southern provinces have been demonstrating against their government for a lack of jobs and services, and against the Iranian presence in their country. They may all be Shiites, but Iraqis are Arab and Iranians are Persian, and a level of historic animosity may be coming to the surface.

Iran’s response has been ever more repression. Minorities, particularly Christians, have suffered, but three Kurdish activists were executed this week, despite pleas from Amnesty International and the UN. Prominent human-rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh sits in the infamous Evin Prison. Twenty-nine women arrested for removing their headscarves have received sentences between two and 20 years, but more are doing it every week. Women have been arrested for dancing as well. Threats don’t appear to have stopped the individual acts of rebellion that accompany larger-scale taxi, truck driver, port worker, farmer, and other protests.

Wild animals become more dangerous as their situation deteriorates. Countries do as well.



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Taking an Axe to 'Peace Processing'



In the new game, the Palestinians have something to lose – the sine qua non of successful negotiations.



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Never Again?


“Never Again” was a rallying cry for Jews after the Holocaust.  Never again would Jews be defenseless.  Never again would Jews be force-marched, starved, and gassed without a response.  Never again would Jews wait to be rescued.  Never again would Jews look at burgeoning anti-Semitism and direct threats and be slothful.  Never again would Jews go quietly.

It worked out that way for the Jews.  The State of Israel; the IDF; the self-confidence of Jews in the United States, Canada, and Australia; and the utter shame of the European countries for the craven and complicit way their people and governments behaved served to protect the remnant of European Jewry and rescue 800,000 Jews from Arab countries, plus Russians, Yemenites, Ethiopians, and Iranians.

But what happens when the forced march, starving, and gas happen to someone else?  And what happens, specifically, when the United States, France, and Russia – World War II allies – stand around not only watching, but complicit?  What happens when it happens in Syria?

To begin with – starvation and gas.  The Syrian military under the protection of Russian air cover has dropped weaponized chlorine on civilians in various Sunni areas of Syria.

Secretary of defense James Mattis laid blame on both.  “Either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad,” Mattis said.  He said it would be “very unwise” for the Assad regime to use chemical weapons.  Acknowledging there is “no evidence” of the use of sarin gas – specifically banned by the Geneva Conventions – “there’s an awful lot of reports about chlorine gas use or about symptoms that could be resulting from chlorine gas.”  He added, “Right now we’re getting reports – I don’t have evidence that I can show you – but I’m aware of the reports of chlorine gas use.”  Chlorine gas kills just as surely.

The whole performance was mealy-mouthed at best.  Our troops are in Syria – not in the areas under chemical attack, but in Syria.  If we don’t have evidence, it is because we’d rather not find it.  That makes the Russians culpable and the Americans complicit.

Next is the question of forcible population transfers.  Iran is not using cattle cars, but it is assuredly committed to forcible removal of the Sunni center of Syria and transferring Shiites in behind them.  Article 49(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention states:

‘Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive[.]’ … Notwithstanding the prohibition in Article 49(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49(2) authorises an Occupying Power to ‘undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand.’  However, Article 49(2) is subject to a number of strict conditions.  These include the following: ‘Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.’

The second prohibition in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 is in Article 49(6): “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

During the trial of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the historic case involving the prosecution of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader during the erstwhile conflict in the former Yugoslavia.  The International Criminal Tribunal wrote: “Deportation [‘across a de jure border’] and forcible transfer [‘within national boundaries’] are defined as: (i) the forced displacement of one or more persons by expulsion or other forms of coercion, (ii) from an area in which they are lawfully present, (iii) without grounds permitted under international law[.]'”

This is the bludgeon with which Israel is frequently pounded, although there simply is no “forcible transfer” in either direction.  On the other hand, Iran and its 82,000-man Shiite militia driving Sunni Syrians north and out of the country requires a careful look.

Iran sees Syria as part of the Shiite Crescent that goes from Iran through Iraq through Syria and Lebanon and out to the Mediterranean Sea.  Syria is the weak link because, although the government is Alawite, Shiites are a distinct minority in country.  If Iran plans to stay in Syria, which it appears to be planning – both because of the Crescent and as a base against Israel – it needs both fewer Sunnis and more Shiites.

Syria’s population before the war was 23 million.  In the last census that asked about religion – 1960 – the country was more or less 75% Sunni (17.25 million); 11% Alawite, which is heterodox Shiite (2.53 million); and almost 11% Christian and Druze together (2.53 million).  Since 2011, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country, and 6.1 million are internally displaced.  A large majority of them are Sunni Muslims.  If the population fell to 17 million (23 minus 6 million external refugees), and if only half were Sunni (not true, but go with it), the Sunni percentage of the total would be 70.3%.  If 5 million of the 5.6 million external refugees were Sunni, the Sunni percentage of the total would be 89.3%.

The main Alawite area is on the western coast; the primary Sunni areas are Damascus, Homs, and Hama.  Kurds are in the north.  Most of the destruction since 2011 has been in the “Sunni Center” (you can see the damage in Homs and Hama and Aleppo) with less on the west coast near Latakia, where the Russians have a naval base, safe within Assad’s home territory.  The current vicious fighting in Ghouta is led by Iranian-organized Shiite militias, undeterred by the U.N. demand to stop.  With the broad movement out of Sunni-dominated areas under the yoke of an Alawite government supported by Shiite Iran and its Afghan and Pakistani militia members, you have what appears to be “ethnic cleansing.”

This raises another question about “forcible population transfers.”  Clearly, the Syrians who have fled their homes were “forcibly” ousted – meeting one prohibition of the Geneva Conventions.  The other is, perhaps, less clear.

“Never Again” was a rallying cry for Jews after the Holocaust.  Never again would Jews be defenseless.  Never again would Jews be force-marched, starved, and gassed without a response.  Never again would Jews wait to be rescued.  Never again would Jews look at burgeoning anti-Semitism and direct threats and be slothful.  Never again would Jews go quietly.

It worked out that way for the Jews.  The State of Israel; the IDF; the self-confidence of Jews in the United States, Canada, and Australia; and the utter shame of the European countries for the craven and complicit way their people and governments behaved served to protect the remnant of European Jewry and rescue 800,000 Jews from Arab countries, plus Russians, Yemenites, Ethiopians, and Iranians.

But what happens when the forced march, starving, and gas happen to someone else?  And what happens, specifically, when the United States, France, and Russia – World War II allies – stand around not only watching, but complicit?  What happens when it happens in Syria?

To begin with – starvation and gas.  The Syrian military under the protection of Russian air cover has dropped weaponized chlorine on civilians in various Sunni areas of Syria.

Secretary of defense James Mattis laid blame on both.  “Either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad,” Mattis said.  He said it would be “very unwise” for the Assad regime to use chemical weapons.  Acknowledging there is “no evidence” of the use of sarin gas – specifically banned by the Geneva Conventions – “there’s an awful lot of reports about chlorine gas use or about symptoms that could be resulting from chlorine gas.”  He added, “Right now we’re getting reports – I don’t have evidence that I can show you – but I’m aware of the reports of chlorine gas use.”  Chlorine gas kills just as surely.

The whole performance was mealy-mouthed at best.  Our troops are in Syria – not in the areas under chemical attack, but in Syria.  If we don’t have evidence, it is because we’d rather not find it.  That makes the Russians culpable and the Americans complicit.

Next is the question of forcible population transfers.  Iran is not using cattle cars, but it is assuredly committed to forcible removal of the Sunni center of Syria and transferring Shiites in behind them.  Article 49(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention states:

‘Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive[.]’ … Notwithstanding the prohibition in Article 49(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49(2) authorises an Occupying Power to ‘undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand.’  However, Article 49(2) is subject to a number of strict conditions.  These include the following: ‘Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.’

The second prohibition in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 is in Article 49(6): “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

During the trial of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the historic case involving the prosecution of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader during the erstwhile conflict in the former Yugoslavia.  The International Criminal Tribunal wrote: “Deportation [‘across a de jure border’] and forcible transfer [‘within national boundaries’] are defined as: (i) the forced displacement of one or more persons by expulsion or other forms of coercion, (ii) from an area in which they are lawfully present, (iii) without grounds permitted under international law[.]'”

This is the bludgeon with which Israel is frequently pounded, although there simply is no “forcible transfer” in either direction.  On the other hand, Iran and its 82,000-man Shiite militia driving Sunni Syrians north and out of the country requires a careful look.

Iran sees Syria as part of the Shiite Crescent that goes from Iran through Iraq through Syria and Lebanon and out to the Mediterranean Sea.  Syria is the weak link because, although the government is Alawite, Shiites are a distinct minority in country.  If Iran plans to stay in Syria, which it appears to be planning – both because of the Crescent and as a base against Israel – it needs both fewer Sunnis and more Shiites.

Syria’s population before the war was 23 million.  In the last census that asked about religion – 1960 – the country was more or less 75% Sunni (17.25 million); 11% Alawite, which is heterodox Shiite (2.53 million); and almost 11% Christian and Druze together (2.53 million).  Since 2011, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country, and 6.1 million are internally displaced.  A large majority of them are Sunni Muslims.  If the population fell to 17 million (23 minus 6 million external refugees), and if only half were Sunni (not true, but go with it), the Sunni percentage of the total would be 70.3%.  If 5 million of the 5.6 million external refugees were Sunni, the Sunni percentage of the total would be 89.3%.

The main Alawite area is on the western coast; the primary Sunni areas are Damascus, Homs, and Hama.  Kurds are in the north.  Most of the destruction since 2011 has been in the “Sunni Center” (you can see the damage in Homs and Hama and Aleppo) with less on the west coast near Latakia, where the Russians have a naval base, safe within Assad’s home territory.  The current vicious fighting in Ghouta is led by Iranian-organized Shiite militias, undeterred by the U.N. demand to stop.  With the broad movement out of Sunni-dominated areas under the yoke of an Alawite government supported by Shiite Iran and its Afghan and Pakistani militia members, you have what appears to be “ethnic cleansing.”

This raises another question about “forcible population transfers.”  Clearly, the Syrians who have fled their homes were “forcibly” ousted – meeting one prohibition of the Geneva Conventions.  The other is, perhaps, less clear.



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No Breaks for Israel


Israel’s red lines in Syria’s civil war have included returning fire against any entity that fires into Israel (whether Syrian, rebel, Hizb’allah, or Iranian); not permitting Iran or Hizb’allah or any of their Shiite proxies in Syria to establish permanent bases within a specific distance of the Israeli Golan border; and not permitting weapons beyond a certain level of lethality and sophistication to move from Syria to Hizb’allah. To enforce those lines, the Israeli Air Defense Force is suspected of carrying out attacks on a “scientific research center,” artillery positions, a “munitions factory,” and more. The Israeli government rarely confirms such strikes, but acknowledges that the Russians are informed of Israeli activity when necessary in an agreed-upon effort to limit the damage and not engage Russian forces themselves.

This has morphed into one of the most quietly effective relationships in the Middle East. Not an alliance, certainly, but the pragmatic leaders of both countries have concluded that each benefits by coordinating with the other.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a full agenda this week, as he went to Moscow for a five-hour meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Davos. High on the list was Israel’s growing concern about the expansion of Hizb’allah missiles and missile production facilities in Lebanon – facilitated by Iran. “It’s no longer a transfer of arms, funds or consultation. Iran has de-facto opened a new branch, the ‘Lebanon branch.’ Iran is here,” wrote IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis. “In Lebanon, Hezbollah does not conceal its attempt to take control of the state.”

But on this and other issues, Russia, Syria’s longtime ally, is looking to reduce its exposure. As the shape of the Syrian war changes, Israel may find its working relations with Russia undermined by Moscow’s desire to exercise influence in Syria generally from afar, and by its shifting relations with Iran.

Since the start of the civil war in 2011, Moscow has enhanced its political position in Damascus and across the region. It has also strengthened its security position by upgrading its naval bases at Tartus and Latakia, while acquiring an airbase at Hmeimim. Russia is leery of committing troops to the war (Afghanistan looms large here), and there are, in fact, very few Russian soldiers on the ground. Now, as fighting on some fronts wanes, the Russians want to pull even those back. Visiting Syria last month, Putin said he would withdraw most of the troops while maintaining the bases. According to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, Putin told assembled Russian troops, “Friends, “the homeland awaits you.”

He had earlier said the military operation in Syria “is indeed in its final stages,” and the political process will begin to take precedence.

But while Russia makes plans to reduce its military presence in Syria, Iran is making plans to expand its influence — not in restricted air bases or naval bases on the coast, but in the Sunni heartland.

For Iran, Syria is part of the “Shiite Crescent,” the land bridge from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean Sea. Not only is it crucial in terms of controlling and supplying Shiite revolution across the region, it serves as a “lid” stretching across the northern borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel — providing a means of harassing all three through proxies. But Syria is an awkward partner in the “Crescent,” being only 15-20% Shiite — and on top of that, Alawite, a heterodox branch of Shiism. In order to control Syria for the long term, Iran has to be on the ground in force.

As early as 2016, as the Syrian Armed Forces disintegrated, U.S. sources said there were more than 80,000 militia fighters controlled by Iran. Confirming the number last week, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said there were 3,000 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), 9,000 members of Hizb’allah, and 10,000 “violent Shia militias recruited from across the Mideast, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The rest are Syrian.

As for Lebanon, Mohammad Raad, a Hizb’allah leader poured gasoline on that fire, claiming Hizb’allah “has capabilities that can destroy the Israeli army,” and warning Israel against “doing something foolish… that will be destructive.” He called Israel “regionally and internationally isolated.” Other Hizb’allah leaders, seeking to cool the situation, denied Manelis’s assertion of Iranian control.

Israel is far from “regionally isolated.” In fact, Iran’s greatest concern at the moment is the burgeoning rapprochement between Israel and the Sunni Gulf States — especially Saudi Arabia. Israel is further bolstered by Vice President Mike Pence’s assertion that the U.S. won’t “let Iran dominate the region.” But movement by Russia out of Syria, leaving the ground game to Iran, could change the shape of Israel’s immediate neighborhood — to its detriment.

Israel’s red lines in Syria’s civil war have included returning fire against any entity that fires into Israel (whether Syrian, rebel, Hizb’allah, or Iranian); not permitting Iran or Hizb’allah or any of their Shiite proxies in Syria to establish permanent bases within a specific distance of the Israeli Golan border; and not permitting weapons beyond a certain level of lethality and sophistication to move from Syria to Hizb’allah. To enforce those lines, the Israeli Air Defense Force is suspected of carrying out attacks on a “scientific research center,” artillery positions, a “munitions factory,” and more. The Israeli government rarely confirms such strikes, but acknowledges that the Russians are informed of Israeli activity when necessary in an agreed-upon effort to limit the damage and not engage Russian forces themselves.

This has morphed into one of the most quietly effective relationships in the Middle East. Not an alliance, certainly, but the pragmatic leaders of both countries have concluded that each benefits by coordinating with the other.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a full agenda this week, as he went to Moscow for a five-hour meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Davos. High on the list was Israel’s growing concern about the expansion of Hizb’allah missiles and missile production facilities in Lebanon – facilitated by Iran. “It’s no longer a transfer of arms, funds or consultation. Iran has de-facto opened a new branch, the ‘Lebanon branch.’ Iran is here,” wrote IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis. “In Lebanon, Hezbollah does not conceal its attempt to take control of the state.”

But on this and other issues, Russia, Syria’s longtime ally, is looking to reduce its exposure. As the shape of the Syrian war changes, Israel may find its working relations with Russia undermined by Moscow’s desire to exercise influence in Syria generally from afar, and by its shifting relations with Iran.

Since the start of the civil war in 2011, Moscow has enhanced its political position in Damascus and across the region. It has also strengthened its security position by upgrading its naval bases at Tartus and Latakia, while acquiring an airbase at Hmeimim. Russia is leery of committing troops to the war (Afghanistan looms large here), and there are, in fact, very few Russian soldiers on the ground. Now, as fighting on some fronts wanes, the Russians want to pull even those back. Visiting Syria last month, Putin said he would withdraw most of the troops while maintaining the bases. According to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, Putin told assembled Russian troops, “Friends, “the homeland awaits you.”

He had earlier said the military operation in Syria “is indeed in its final stages,” and the political process will begin to take precedence.

But while Russia makes plans to reduce its military presence in Syria, Iran is making plans to expand its influence — not in restricted air bases or naval bases on the coast, but in the Sunni heartland.

For Iran, Syria is part of the “Shiite Crescent,” the land bridge from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean Sea. Not only is it crucial in terms of controlling and supplying Shiite revolution across the region, it serves as a “lid” stretching across the northern borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel — providing a means of harassing all three through proxies. But Syria is an awkward partner in the “Crescent,” being only 15-20% Shiite — and on top of that, Alawite, a heterodox branch of Shiism. In order to control Syria for the long term, Iran has to be on the ground in force.

As early as 2016, as the Syrian Armed Forces disintegrated, U.S. sources said there were more than 80,000 militia fighters controlled by Iran. Confirming the number last week, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said there were 3,000 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), 9,000 members of Hizb’allah, and 10,000 “violent Shia militias recruited from across the Mideast, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The rest are Syrian.

As for Lebanon, Mohammad Raad, a Hizb’allah leader poured gasoline on that fire, claiming Hizb’allah “has capabilities that can destroy the Israeli army,” and warning Israel against “doing something foolish… that will be destructive.” He called Israel “regionally and internationally isolated.” Other Hizb’allah leaders, seeking to cool the situation, denied Manelis’s assertion of Iranian control.

Israel is far from “regionally isolated.” In fact, Iran’s greatest concern at the moment is the burgeoning rapprochement between Israel and the Sunni Gulf States — especially Saudi Arabia. Israel is further bolstered by Vice President Mike Pence’s assertion that the U.S. won’t “let Iran dominate the region.” But movement by Russia out of Syria, leaving the ground game to Iran, could change the shape of Israel’s immediate neighborhood — to its detriment.



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A Down Payment for Peace


It’s starting to sound like a plan.

Since the beginning of the Oslo “peace process,” it has been assumed that Israel has more to give than the Palestinians. After all, the story went, Israel is wealthy, recognized, democratic, and stable. The Palestinians are refugees with nothing. Right? So Israel was told not to build houses for Jews in areas that might become a Palestinian state — lest the Palestinians end up with a country that has Jews in it. Israel has, further, been pressed to “make life better” for the Palestinians in terms of jobs, electricity, water, medical care, and agriculture. The Arab states and the EU — as well as the U.S. — provide funds for, well, for everything including Palestinian leaders’ mansions and bank accounts. The deeper others waded into the “process” over the past two-plus decades, the more the Palestinians could be excused for believing that they didn’t have to do anything, but could wait for people to squeeze more out of Israel on their behalf under threat of a) discontinuing the process and/or b) more violence.

After all, they reasoned, what did they have to lose?

The Trump administration, however, appears to have concluded that the process might work differently if the Palestinians thought they did have something to lose. And by the moaning and shrieking emanating from Ramallah, if that is the plan it may be a good one.

The President started with a clear statement to Palestinian strongman Mahmoud Abbas about not teaching hatred, and then castigating him when he discovered that Abbas’s reassurances were lies. Congress added in the Taylor Force Act, which the President has said he would sign. The bill cuts funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as long as the PA is funding salaries for terrorists. Then the administration publicly considered closing the Palestinian mission in Washington because the PA was not meeting its Oslo obligation to negotiate issues directly with Israel and had, instead, made overtures in the International Criminal Court.

And now it appears the administration has failed to sign the waiver that keeps the American embassy in Tel Aviv, rather than moving it to Jerusalem as the law demands. (This one is tricky — the waiver was not signed six months after the previous waiver. Whether the signature has to be precisely six months to the day or has wiggle room is the subject of some discussion.) At the same time, the administration seems ready to declare its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, putting Israel on the same footing as 192 other countries in the world who determine their own seats of government.

Reuters reports that President Trump has spoken with both King Abdullah II of Jordan and Palestinian strongman Mahmoud Abbas about his decision to move the embassy.

What the Palestinians have to lose, then, is American acquiescence to a process by which the Palestinians continue gain something for nothing, and in which they believe violence is always their trump card (so to speak). Indeed, Mahmoud Habash, an advisor to Abbas, said that if President Trump were to recognize Jerusalem, it would amount to a “complete destruction of the peace process.” Habash said that “the world will pay the price” for any change in Jerusalem’s status.

Threatening the American administration doesn’t seem like a game-winner. Threatening to destroy the nonexistent “peace process” is spurious.

The Palestinians — and most of the Arab world, save for Egypt and Jordan — have declined every opportunity and every demand for “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” This is the promise of UN Resolution 242 to Israel after the Arabs had tried in 1967 to reverse the establishment of the State of Israel.

Anwar Sadat and King Hussein offered Israel the terms of UN Resolution 242 and negotiated the terms of peace treaties that served their interests as well as Israel’s. Today, most of the Arab states today are fairly certain Israel is here to stay, but have done no better than put forward an “Arab Peace Plan” that fails Res. 242 entirely. (The so-called “Arab Peace Plan” didn’t come close — requiring that Israel retreat to insecure and unrecognized armistice lines before the Arabs considered recognition of Israel’s legitimacy.) 

The U.S. can clearly state the way forward for the Palestinians — they have to make a down payment on peace with Israel. A clear and demonstrable commitment to UN Resolution 242 — to the legitimacy and permanence of Israel in the region — is the price of continued American support. If that is too big a leap, let the Palestinians urge the Arab states to go first so they have support for their move.

If the Palestinians and the Arab states can’t get there, they will have sabotaged themselves and their people (again) far more than Israel or the United States. Israel will continue to be what it is — wealthy, recognized, democratic, and stable. It will continue to create alliances and relationships that benefit its people and its friends. It will continue to make progress in education, technology, security, the arts and the sciences, and it will continue to share those capabilities around the world.

And the United States will stand with its friend and ally, Israel. 

It’s starting to sound like a plan.

Since the beginning of the Oslo “peace process,” it has been assumed that Israel has more to give than the Palestinians. After all, the story went, Israel is wealthy, recognized, democratic, and stable. The Palestinians are refugees with nothing. Right? So Israel was told not to build houses for Jews in areas that might become a Palestinian state — lest the Palestinians end up with a country that has Jews in it. Israel has, further, been pressed to “make life better” for the Palestinians in terms of jobs, electricity, water, medical care, and agriculture. The Arab states and the EU — as well as the U.S. — provide funds for, well, for everything including Palestinian leaders’ mansions and bank accounts. The deeper others waded into the “process” over the past two-plus decades, the more the Palestinians could be excused for believing that they didn’t have to do anything, but could wait for people to squeeze more out of Israel on their behalf under threat of a) discontinuing the process and/or b) more violence.

After all, they reasoned, what did they have to lose?

The Trump administration, however, appears to have concluded that the process might work differently if the Palestinians thought they did have something to lose. And by the moaning and shrieking emanating from Ramallah, if that is the plan it may be a good one.

The President started with a clear statement to Palestinian strongman Mahmoud Abbas about not teaching hatred, and then castigating him when he discovered that Abbas’s reassurances were lies. Congress added in the Taylor Force Act, which the President has said he would sign. The bill cuts funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as long as the PA is funding salaries for terrorists. Then the administration publicly considered closing the Palestinian mission in Washington because the PA was not meeting its Oslo obligation to negotiate issues directly with Israel and had, instead, made overtures in the International Criminal Court.

And now it appears the administration has failed to sign the waiver that keeps the American embassy in Tel Aviv, rather than moving it to Jerusalem as the law demands. (This one is tricky — the waiver was not signed six months after the previous waiver. Whether the signature has to be precisely six months to the day or has wiggle room is the subject of some discussion.) At the same time, the administration seems ready to declare its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, putting Israel on the same footing as 192 other countries in the world who determine their own seats of government.

Reuters reports that President Trump has spoken with both King Abdullah II of Jordan and Palestinian strongman Mahmoud Abbas about his decision to move the embassy.

What the Palestinians have to lose, then, is American acquiescence to a process by which the Palestinians continue gain something for nothing, and in which they believe violence is always their trump card (so to speak). Indeed, Mahmoud Habash, an advisor to Abbas, said that if President Trump were to recognize Jerusalem, it would amount to a “complete destruction of the peace process.” Habash said that “the world will pay the price” for any change in Jerusalem’s status.

Threatening the American administration doesn’t seem like a game-winner. Threatening to destroy the nonexistent “peace process” is spurious.

The Palestinians — and most of the Arab world, save for Egypt and Jordan — have declined every opportunity and every demand for “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” This is the promise of UN Resolution 242 to Israel after the Arabs had tried in 1967 to reverse the establishment of the State of Israel.

Anwar Sadat and King Hussein offered Israel the terms of UN Resolution 242 and negotiated the terms of peace treaties that served their interests as well as Israel’s. Today, most of the Arab states today are fairly certain Israel is here to stay, but have done no better than put forward an “Arab Peace Plan” that fails Res. 242 entirely. (The so-called “Arab Peace Plan” didn’t come close — requiring that Israel retreat to insecure and unrecognized armistice lines before the Arabs considered recognition of Israel’s legitimacy.) 

The U.S. can clearly state the way forward for the Palestinians — they have to make a down payment on peace with Israel. A clear and demonstrable commitment to UN Resolution 242 — to the legitimacy and permanence of Israel in the region — is the price of continued American support. If that is too big a leap, let the Palestinians urge the Arab states to go first so they have support for their move.

If the Palestinians and the Arab states can’t get there, they will have sabotaged themselves and their people (again) far more than Israel or the United States. Israel will continue to be what it is — wealthy, recognized, democratic, and stable. It will continue to create alliances and relationships that benefit its people and its friends. It will continue to make progress in education, technology, security, the arts and the sciences, and it will continue to share those capabilities around the world.

And the United States will stand with its friend and ally, Israel. 



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The Middle East's Problems Are Really Our Problems


It’s our problem, actually, and we’ve made it theirs.

It is the West that simultaneously wants “the Arab Spring” and “stability.”  Democracy and strong government control.  Honest government and stable kleptocrats.

Check out our split-brain reaction to the Palestinian Authority.  By rights, the U.S. should have nothing to do with people who venerate and pay for terror against civilians; teach their children that their country is “from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea; rob donors and international agencies blind; jail people for their Facebook posts; hold office eight years after the end of a single elected term; refuse to seat an elected parliament; and refuse to acknowledge the permanence and legitimacy of America’s ally, Israel.  And yet the U.S. treats Palestinian leaders as if they were diplomats, declines to close the PLO “embassy” in Washington, trains their police, maintains the functional equivalent of an embassy in eastern Jerusalem for them – while declining to do the same for the State of Israel in western Jerusalem, and gives priority to the so-called “peace process” over security for our democratic ally.

In the name of “stability.”

We’re not much better in the rest of the Arab world.  Knocking off the Taliban in 2002 and Saddam Hussein in 2003, the U.S. installed governments presumed to be based on American-style democratic norms.  The Taliban is thoroughly resurgent, while American casualties rise.  Iraq ended up with ISIS, Iranian and Iranian-sponsored militias, and a Baghdad government beating on our Kurdish allies.  The 2011 “Arab Spring” was supposed to be the harbinger of Arab governments that honored Western education, free speech, civil society, women’s rights, regular elections, and tolerance of minorities and minority opinion.  That was supposed to be Libya after we ousted Gaddafi in 2012 and how it was going to be when the CIA-armed “moderate Syrians” ousted Bashar Assad.  How’s that working out?

Over the weekend, in a joint statement, President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump agreed that “[t]here is no military solution to the conflict in Syria.”  In the official communiqué produced on the margins of the conference in Da Nang, the two presidents “[c]onfirmed that the ultimate political solution to the conflict must be forged through the Geneva process pursuant to UNSCR 2254. They also took note of President Asad’s recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections as called for under UNSCR 2254.”

Assad wins with our blessing.  Never mind the 500,000-plus Syrian casualties, the 4.8 million Syrians who fled to camps in the region, the 6.6 million internally displaced, and the million who have requested asylum in Europe.  Maybe it was just an effort to show increasing “stability” in the region, but it is an example of how willing countries – including Russia – are to dissemble so as not to admit that Iran and its militias have no intention of leaving Syria and are, in fact, building a permanent base less than 30 miles from Israel’s border.  There will be no stability.

Now we’re dissembling on Lebanon – and on Saudi Arabia – neither of which was stable when the media suddenly discovered them.

In Lebanon, Hezb’allah has been running the show with the military and financial assistance of Iran for decades; the 1983 Marine barracks bombing should be a clue.  Despite U.N. Resolution 1701 of 2006, which forbids Hezb’allah arms south of the Litani River, there are an estimated 110,000 missiles and rockets there, most underneath or inside what appear to be civilian dwellings and schools.  If that isn’t enough missiles for you, the IDF has confirmed that Iran’s IRGC has been building missile production facilities in Lebanon more than 150 feet below ground.  In exchange, Hezb’allah supplies men and arms for the fight in Syria, contributing to carnage on a scale unseen in this century, including the use of chemical weapons.

The American response has been to arm and train the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), insisting and pretending that the LAF is not actually controlled by the actual government of Lebanon, that it is a force for stability – or maybe insisting and pretending that it is controlled by the government.  “The United States expects an orderly political process in Lebanon and will remain supportive of the legitimate institutions of the Lebanese state,” said Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway – including the Hezb’allah-controlled LAF.

We expected an “orderly process” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria as well, and we found American weapons in the hands of hostile forces in each case.  The administration has admitted that Iranian-backed forces in Iraq have American-supplied equipment, and a number of recent American casualties in Afghanistan have come from Afghans undergoing training with our forces.

And so to Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan (MbS) is shaking up the country both domestically and internationally.

But Saudi Arabia was far from stable before him, with a huge young population with few career choices, women under siege, a Wahhabi religious authority wedded to Sunni jihad, corruption among the princely class (there are 15,000 princes plus families), a single-commodity economy, and Iran stirring up Shiite minority communities both in Saudi itself and in other Gulf countries.  MbS appears to have strong support from various quarters of the kingdom as he makes his choices and sets the country on a path to royal succession from a single branch of the Saudi family tree.  He may succeed, and he may not.  He may create more instability with no redeeming forward progress, and he may set the stage for a country better able to find its way in the 21st century.

One thing is for sure.  The U.S. and its Western allies have wanted the impossible from the Middle East: stability and progress, the firm hand of government control, and free institutions.  That is our problem, and we’ve helped to make it theirs.

It’s our problem, actually, and we’ve made it theirs.

It is the West that simultaneously wants “the Arab Spring” and “stability.”  Democracy and strong government control.  Honest government and stable kleptocrats.

Check out our split-brain reaction to the Palestinian Authority.  By rights, the U.S. should have nothing to do with people who venerate and pay for terror against civilians; teach their children that their country is “from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea; rob donors and international agencies blind; jail people for their Facebook posts; hold office eight years after the end of a single elected term; refuse to seat an elected parliament; and refuse to acknowledge the permanence and legitimacy of America’s ally, Israel.  And yet the U.S. treats Palestinian leaders as if they were diplomats, declines to close the PLO “embassy” in Washington, trains their police, maintains the functional equivalent of an embassy in eastern Jerusalem for them – while declining to do the same for the State of Israel in western Jerusalem, and gives priority to the so-called “peace process” over security for our democratic ally.

In the name of “stability.”

We’re not much better in the rest of the Arab world.  Knocking off the Taliban in 2002 and Saddam Hussein in 2003, the U.S. installed governments presumed to be based on American-style democratic norms.  The Taliban is thoroughly resurgent, while American casualties rise.  Iraq ended up with ISIS, Iranian and Iranian-sponsored militias, and a Baghdad government beating on our Kurdish allies.  The 2011 “Arab Spring” was supposed to be the harbinger of Arab governments that honored Western education, free speech, civil society, women’s rights, regular elections, and tolerance of minorities and minority opinion.  That was supposed to be Libya after we ousted Gaddafi in 2012 and how it was going to be when the CIA-armed “moderate Syrians” ousted Bashar Assad.  How’s that working out?

Over the weekend, in a joint statement, President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump agreed that “[t]here is no military solution to the conflict in Syria.”  In the official communiqué produced on the margins of the conference in Da Nang, the two presidents “[c]onfirmed that the ultimate political solution to the conflict must be forged through the Geneva process pursuant to UNSCR 2254. They also took note of President Asad’s recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections as called for under UNSCR 2254.”

Assad wins with our blessing.  Never mind the 500,000-plus Syrian casualties, the 4.8 million Syrians who fled to camps in the region, the 6.6 million internally displaced, and the million who have requested asylum in Europe.  Maybe it was just an effort to show increasing “stability” in the region, but it is an example of how willing countries – including Russia – are to dissemble so as not to admit that Iran and its militias have no intention of leaving Syria and are, in fact, building a permanent base less than 30 miles from Israel’s border.  There will be no stability.

Now we’re dissembling on Lebanon – and on Saudi Arabia – neither of which was stable when the media suddenly discovered them.

In Lebanon, Hezb’allah has been running the show with the military and financial assistance of Iran for decades; the 1983 Marine barracks bombing should be a clue.  Despite U.N. Resolution 1701 of 2006, which forbids Hezb’allah arms south of the Litani River, there are an estimated 110,000 missiles and rockets there, most underneath or inside what appear to be civilian dwellings and schools.  If that isn’t enough missiles for you, the IDF has confirmed that Iran’s IRGC has been building missile production facilities in Lebanon more than 150 feet below ground.  In exchange, Hezb’allah supplies men and arms for the fight in Syria, contributing to carnage on a scale unseen in this century, including the use of chemical weapons.

The American response has been to arm and train the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), insisting and pretending that the LAF is not actually controlled by the actual government of Lebanon, that it is a force for stability – or maybe insisting and pretending that it is controlled by the government.  “The United States expects an orderly political process in Lebanon and will remain supportive of the legitimate institutions of the Lebanese state,” said Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway – including the Hezb’allah-controlled LAF.

We expected an “orderly process” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria as well, and we found American weapons in the hands of hostile forces in each case.  The administration has admitted that Iranian-backed forces in Iraq have American-supplied equipment, and a number of recent American casualties in Afghanistan have come from Afghans undergoing training with our forces.

And so to Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan (MbS) is shaking up the country both domestically and internationally.

But Saudi Arabia was far from stable before him, with a huge young population with few career choices, women under siege, a Wahhabi religious authority wedded to Sunni jihad, corruption among the princely class (there are 15,000 princes plus families), a single-commodity economy, and Iran stirring up Shiite minority communities both in Saudi itself and in other Gulf countries.  MbS appears to have strong support from various quarters of the kingdom as he makes his choices and sets the country on a path to royal succession from a single branch of the Saudi family tree.  He may succeed, and he may not.  He may create more instability with no redeeming forward progress, and he may set the stage for a country better able to find its way in the 21st century.

One thing is for sure.  The U.S. and its Western allies have wanted the impossible from the Middle East: stability and progress, the firm hand of government control, and free institutions.  That is our problem, and we’ve helped to make it theirs.



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Palestinian Reconciliation: To What End?


After weeks of Egyptian-sponsored pre-talks, and a very short “cabinet meeting” in Gaza, “formal reconciliation talks” are now being held between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (P.A. or Fatah) in Cairo under the direct auspices of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

For some Middle East-watchers, the talks are a form of progress.  There are presently three functional governments between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and this is about getting rid of one of them.  Progress here is that Israel is not the government they’re talking about getting rid of.  Yet.  This is about whether Hamas or Fatah will lead the Palestinians – whether to peace with Israel or to war with Israel is less important for them right now than simply who between them is top dog.

The factions are “optimistic,” according to Palestinian sources in Cairo.  To the extent they are, Israel and the West should be worried, because what they agree on is that Jewish sovereignty is illegitimate.  What they don’t agree on is who gets the bigger army.  Scylla here is an 83-year-old despotic kleptocrat whose administration has impoverished and radicalized the people of the West Bank while begging protection from Israel against Charybdis – a terror organization that has impoverished and radicalized the people of Gaza.  

Most of the world – the United States included – simply assumes that the legitimate party is Fatah.  Hamas assumes no such thing.  In the last Palestinian election (2006 if you’re counting), Hamas won 76 of the 132 legislative seats; Fatah won 43.  Hamas should have been allowed to form the cabinet, but the legislature was never seated – in part because Israel and the United States didn’t want Hamas in the government any more than Fatah did.  But it was, in fact, the result of the last thing that passed for a general election.  The short, brutal civil war came in 2007.  Mahmoud Abbas’s term as president expired in 2009.

Hamas claims that it will turn the civil administration over to Fatah but insists that it will hold on to its army (25,000 fighters of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades) in what it calls a “Lebanon solution,” a private militia outside the government.  Hamas leader Ismayil Haniyeh told Egyptian television, “There are two groups of weapons. There are the weapons of the government, the police and security services[.] … And there are the weapons of resistance. Regarding the weapons of the resistance, as long as there is a Zionist occupation on Palestinian land, it is the right of the Palestinian people to possess weapons and resist the occupation in all of forms of resistance.” 

P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas firmly rejected the Hamas proposal.  “I will not accept or copy or reproduce the Hezb’allah example in Lebanon. Everything must be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority.”  His great fear is Hamas demanding that security cooperation between Fatah and the IDF, which protects the P.A., cease – leaving the field clear for a Hamas military takeover on the West Bank.  That is Israel’s nightmare as well.

Other than the threat of a military victory, Hamas holds few actual cards.  Egypt keeps the Rafah border crossing in Gaza mostly closed as a means of keeping Hamas from joining forces with ISIS and other jihadist elements in the Sinai.  Qatar has reduced its funding, and Iran has not made up the difference.

The P.A., on the other hand, is the recipient of international largesse – European, American, NGOs, etc.  It is supposed to use the money for all the Palestinians, including paying Gaza government officials and workers, paying utility bills to Israel, paying teachers, etc.  But it uses it instead to assert authority.

After the 2007 war, 70,000 P.A. employees in the Gaza Strip lost their jobs, but they remained on the P.A. payroll; many haven’t been to work since.  Recently, the P.A. cut the salaries of its own people in Gaza by 30 percent, hoping they would pressure Hamas.  In April, the P.A. stopped paying for Gaza’s electricity, resulting in shortages over the summer that simply made miserable people more miserable.

If Abbas wanted to strong-arm Hamas, he failed.  Despite its apparently superior position, the electricity is back on, and the P.A. won no decisive battle against Hamas.  It will now try to win in negotiations what it couldn’t manipulate on the ground.

But while they try, keep in mind that a victory for Scylla is not a victory.  The 70-nation Paris Peace Conference in January included in its final communiqué a scathing indictment of the P.A., noting that after 24 years of self-rule, it lacked “the infrastructure for a viable Palestinian economy” and had no capacity for “service delivery” and inadequate “civil society fora.”  To birth “Palestine” under the circumstances would be to birth South Sudan – a failed state for its own people and a chaotic one for the rest of us. 

After weeks of Egyptian-sponsored pre-talks, and a very short “cabinet meeting” in Gaza, “formal reconciliation talks” are now being held between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (P.A. or Fatah) in Cairo under the direct auspices of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

For some Middle East-watchers, the talks are a form of progress.  There are presently three functional governments between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and this is about getting rid of one of them.  Progress here is that Israel is not the government they’re talking about getting rid of.  Yet.  This is about whether Hamas or Fatah will lead the Palestinians – whether to peace with Israel or to war with Israel is less important for them right now than simply who between them is top dog.

The factions are “optimistic,” according to Palestinian sources in Cairo.  To the extent they are, Israel and the West should be worried, because what they agree on is that Jewish sovereignty is illegitimate.  What they don’t agree on is who gets the bigger army.  Scylla here is an 83-year-old despotic kleptocrat whose administration has impoverished and radicalized the people of the West Bank while begging protection from Israel against Charybdis – a terror organization that has impoverished and radicalized the people of Gaza.  

Most of the world – the United States included – simply assumes that the legitimate party is Fatah.  Hamas assumes no such thing.  In the last Palestinian election (2006 if you’re counting), Hamas won 76 of the 132 legislative seats; Fatah won 43.  Hamas should have been allowed to form the cabinet, but the legislature was never seated – in part because Israel and the United States didn’t want Hamas in the government any more than Fatah did.  But it was, in fact, the result of the last thing that passed for a general election.  The short, brutal civil war came in 2007.  Mahmoud Abbas’s term as president expired in 2009.

Hamas claims that it will turn the civil administration over to Fatah but insists that it will hold on to its army (25,000 fighters of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades) in what it calls a “Lebanon solution,” a private militia outside the government.  Hamas leader Ismayil Haniyeh told Egyptian television, “There are two groups of weapons. There are the weapons of the government, the police and security services[.] … And there are the weapons of resistance. Regarding the weapons of the resistance, as long as there is a Zionist occupation on Palestinian land, it is the right of the Palestinian people to possess weapons and resist the occupation in all of forms of resistance.” 

P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas firmly rejected the Hamas proposal.  “I will not accept or copy or reproduce the Hezb’allah example in Lebanon. Everything must be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority.”  His great fear is Hamas demanding that security cooperation between Fatah and the IDF, which protects the P.A., cease – leaving the field clear for a Hamas military takeover on the West Bank.  That is Israel’s nightmare as well.

Other than the threat of a military victory, Hamas holds few actual cards.  Egypt keeps the Rafah border crossing in Gaza mostly closed as a means of keeping Hamas from joining forces with ISIS and other jihadist elements in the Sinai.  Qatar has reduced its funding, and Iran has not made up the difference.

The P.A., on the other hand, is the recipient of international largesse – European, American, NGOs, etc.  It is supposed to use the money for all the Palestinians, including paying Gaza government officials and workers, paying utility bills to Israel, paying teachers, etc.  But it uses it instead to assert authority.

After the 2007 war, 70,000 P.A. employees in the Gaza Strip lost their jobs, but they remained on the P.A. payroll; many haven’t been to work since.  Recently, the P.A. cut the salaries of its own people in Gaza by 30 percent, hoping they would pressure Hamas.  In April, the P.A. stopped paying for Gaza’s electricity, resulting in shortages over the summer that simply made miserable people more miserable.

If Abbas wanted to strong-arm Hamas, he failed.  Despite its apparently superior position, the electricity is back on, and the P.A. won no decisive battle against Hamas.  It will now try to win in negotiations what it couldn’t manipulate on the ground.

But while they try, keep in mind that a victory for Scylla is not a victory.  The 70-nation Paris Peace Conference in January included in its final communiqué a scathing indictment of the P.A., noting that after 24 years of self-rule, it lacked “the infrastructure for a viable Palestinian economy” and had no capacity for “service delivery” and inadequate “civil society fora.”  To birth “Palestine” under the circumstances would be to birth South Sudan – a failed state for its own people and a chaotic one for the rest of us. 



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How Naked Is the Iranian Emperor?


The clock appears to be ticking on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); more than some may think, less than others may hope. Whatever President Donald Trump decides to do with the unsigned, unratified, unagreed-upon text of the untreaty, it should be clear that the agreement did not moderate Iran’s ambitions — nuclear or otherwise — and pretending will not make it so.

The JCPOA was not designed to end Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.

One reason there is no agreed-upon text is that the sides were negotiating different ends: the U.S. wanted to constrain Iran’s enrichment and other nuclear weapons-related capabilities for a period of time during which President Obama and others said/hoped Iran would become a constructive regional player. Iran was negotiating the terms under which it could continue to enrich uranium with an international imprimatur. Deal supporters acknowledge as much. Paul Pillar of Georgetown University recently wrote, “If there were no JCPOA, then instead of Iran being free of some restrictions on its nuclear activity 10 or 15 years from now, it would be free from those same restrictions right now.”

It wasn’t presented that way, of course. President Obama presented Congress and the American people with a binary choice — the JCPOA or war. The threat of war is so powerful that JCPOA supporters still use it. Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, wrote last month, “If the Trump administration kills the deal with Iran…  [that] the rest of the international community is highly satisfied with, it should forget about peacefully settling the nuclear standoff with North Korea.”

Vaez threatens the United States with war in Asia, not for attacking Iran, but for exposing the emperor’s nakedness.

How naked is Iran? For a country that was supposed to moderate its international behavior in light of Western acceptance, money, and trade, Iran has behaved more like a country determined to pursue its own ends with little concern for the opinions of the West.

There is ample evidence of illicit missile trade with North Korea. The infusion of Western money has allowed Iran to field proxy Shiite militias in Iraq; Somali and Afghan mercenaries in Syria – including children, according to Human Rights Watch — along with its Hizb’allah allies; pursue its ballistic missile program in defiance of UN sanctions; arm Houthi rebels in Yemen in defiance of UN arms sanctions; plan billions in military equipment purchases; hold  four (or five) Americans without rights (or charges in two cases); harass American ships in the Persian Gulf; and generally deny its own people civil liberties, including freedom from arbitrary arrest or torture. Iran executed at least 567 people in 2016, making it one of the top three in the world.

Iran’s behaviors threaten large parts of the world and many of its most vulnerable citizens even before the question of whether Iran is actually making progress on its nuclear weapons capabilities now — cheating on the deal it never signed.

For understandable reasons, the IAEA is loath to say it doesn’t have the access it should have to Iran’s military sites to fully understand what the regime is doing. But remember two things: shortly after the deal was agreed (though not signed) the IAEA made a separate deal for Iran to inspect its own facilities at Parchin and other military sites. And, the IAEA does not certify Iran’s compliance, as the inestimable and indefatigable Mark Dubowitz at FDD reminds us:

The IAEA’s mandate with respect to the JCPOA primarily entails monitoring and reporting on Tehran’s nuclear-related actions (or lack thereof) pursuant to the JCPOA’s provisions. The determination of whether Iranian conduct constitutes compliance with the JCPOA remains the prerogative of the individual parties to the agreement: China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Iran, with the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy.

The Trump administration has been busy setting the stage for a new American policy. In May, there were 40 new sanctions connected to Iranian missile and terrorism activities and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force — including on Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, and on his brother, Sohrab Soleimani, for his role in running Teheran’s notorious Evin prison. In July, Treasury designated 16 entities and individuals for supporting “illicit Iranian actors or transnational criminal activity.” The State Department separately designated two organizations involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program. The White House is presently considering IRGC a terrorist organization.

Iran’s violations are clear. It remains to be seen how our allies and our adversaries would react to an American decertification of Iran under the JCPOA, or withdrawal from the deal in its entirety.

Vaez, having threatened the U.S. with war in Korea, is more nebulous but no less adamant in threatening disaster. “The IAEA has never had better access to Iran’s military sites. If the Trump administration loses this unprecedented access… it will soon wish for it.”

Our allies are a mixed bag. Generally unwilling to support President Trump, and very fond of the contracts Iran has been throwing their way, they are nervous. Longtime analyst Dennis Ross points out that France’s President Emmanuel Macron is seeking a renegotiation of the agreement — and he is not the only one, Democrats in Congress are suggesting the same. Richard Goldberg, staff member to then-senator Mark Kirk, believes allies will get in line with American policy should more sweeping sanctions be called for.

Most important, however, is Iran’s response. While the IRGC threatened missile attacks on U.S. bases should the president sanction the Revolutionary Guard, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made overtures to the countries of the P5+1 during the UN session in September, suggesting that Iran’s ballistic missile program — illegal and under UN sanction — could be discussed (modified? adhered to?). That is not the same as discussing or adhering to the JCPOA, but suggests that Iran does not want to be completely cut off from conversation with the West.

It is a dangerous moment. Iran has become more, not less, threatening to global peace and security, and has no intention of transparency in its nuclear programs. But that is as it has always been. The difference now is that the American government is willing to say so.

The clock appears to be ticking on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); more than some may think, less than others may hope. Whatever President Donald Trump decides to do with the unsigned, unratified, unagreed-upon text of the untreaty, it should be clear that the agreement did not moderate Iran’s ambitions — nuclear or otherwise — and pretending will not make it so.

The JCPOA was not designed to end Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.

One reason there is no agreed-upon text is that the sides were negotiating different ends: the U.S. wanted to constrain Iran’s enrichment and other nuclear weapons-related capabilities for a period of time during which President Obama and others said/hoped Iran would become a constructive regional player. Iran was negotiating the terms under which it could continue to enrich uranium with an international imprimatur. Deal supporters acknowledge as much. Paul Pillar of Georgetown University recently wrote, “If there were no JCPOA, then instead of Iran being free of some restrictions on its nuclear activity 10 or 15 years from now, it would be free from those same restrictions right now.”

It wasn’t presented that way, of course. President Obama presented Congress and the American people with a binary choice — the JCPOA or war. The threat of war is so powerful that JCPOA supporters still use it. Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, wrote last month, “If the Trump administration kills the deal with Iran…  [that] the rest of the international community is highly satisfied with, it should forget about peacefully settling the nuclear standoff with North Korea.”

Vaez threatens the United States with war in Asia, not for attacking Iran, but for exposing the emperor’s nakedness.

How naked is Iran? For a country that was supposed to moderate its international behavior in light of Western acceptance, money, and trade, Iran has behaved more like a country determined to pursue its own ends with little concern for the opinions of the West.

There is ample evidence of illicit missile trade with North Korea. The infusion of Western money has allowed Iran to field proxy Shiite militias in Iraq; Somali and Afghan mercenaries in Syria – including children, according to Human Rights Watch — along with its Hizb’allah allies; pursue its ballistic missile program in defiance of UN sanctions; arm Houthi rebels in Yemen in defiance of UN arms sanctions; plan billions in military equipment purchases; hold  four (or five) Americans without rights (or charges in two cases); harass American ships in the Persian Gulf; and generally deny its own people civil liberties, including freedom from arbitrary arrest or torture. Iran executed at least 567 people in 2016, making it one of the top three in the world.

Iran’s behaviors threaten large parts of the world and many of its most vulnerable citizens even before the question of whether Iran is actually making progress on its nuclear weapons capabilities now — cheating on the deal it never signed.

For understandable reasons, the IAEA is loath to say it doesn’t have the access it should have to Iran’s military sites to fully understand what the regime is doing. But remember two things: shortly after the deal was agreed (though not signed) the IAEA made a separate deal for Iran to inspect its own facilities at Parchin and other military sites. And, the IAEA does not certify Iran’s compliance, as the inestimable and indefatigable Mark Dubowitz at FDD reminds us:

The IAEA’s mandate with respect to the JCPOA primarily entails monitoring and reporting on Tehran’s nuclear-related actions (or lack thereof) pursuant to the JCPOA’s provisions. The determination of whether Iranian conduct constitutes compliance with the JCPOA remains the prerogative of the individual parties to the agreement: China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Iran, with the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy.

The Trump administration has been busy setting the stage for a new American policy. In May, there were 40 new sanctions connected to Iranian missile and terrorism activities and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force — including on Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, and on his brother, Sohrab Soleimani, for his role in running Teheran’s notorious Evin prison. In July, Treasury designated 16 entities and individuals for supporting “illicit Iranian actors or transnational criminal activity.” The State Department separately designated two organizations involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program. The White House is presently considering IRGC a terrorist organization.

Iran’s violations are clear. It remains to be seen how our allies and our adversaries would react to an American decertification of Iran under the JCPOA, or withdrawal from the deal in its entirety.

Vaez, having threatened the U.S. with war in Korea, is more nebulous but no less adamant in threatening disaster. “The IAEA has never had better access to Iran’s military sites. If the Trump administration loses this unprecedented access… it will soon wish for it.”

Our allies are a mixed bag. Generally unwilling to support President Trump, and very fond of the contracts Iran has been throwing their way, they are nervous. Longtime analyst Dennis Ross points out that France’s President Emmanuel Macron is seeking a renegotiation of the agreement — and he is not the only one, Democrats in Congress are suggesting the same. Richard Goldberg, staff member to then-senator Mark Kirk, believes allies will get in line with American policy should more sweeping sanctions be called for.

Most important, however, is Iran’s response. While the IRGC threatened missile attacks on U.S. bases should the president sanction the Revolutionary Guard, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made overtures to the countries of the P5+1 during the UN session in September, suggesting that Iran’s ballistic missile program — illegal and under UN sanction — could be discussed (modified? adhered to?). That is not the same as discussing or adhering to the JCPOA, but suggests that Iran does not want to be completely cut off from conversation with the West.

It is a dangerous moment. Iran has become more, not less, threatening to global peace and security, and has no intention of transparency in its nuclear programs. But that is as it has always been. The difference now is that the American government is willing to say so.



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It's about Sovereignty


The disgusting terror murders of two Israeli policemen (one shot in the back) on the Temple Mount, coupled with the indescribable terror murders of three Israelis (grandfather, father, and aunt) celebrating the birth of a baby at their Sabbath dinner, were met with howls of outrage and threats of retaliatory violence and even religious war –- not by Israelis seeking vengeance, but by Palestinians!

Echoed by Jordanians, al Jazeera, and the UN, Palestinian strongman Mahmoud Abbas claimed he couldn’t be held responsible for escalated violence if Israel maintained the metal detectors on the Temple Mount installed to prevent a recurrence of violence directed at Jews.  

Nothing in the Middle East is ever what it looks like. Metal detectors may be metal detectors elsewhere, but on the Temple Mount they are an attack on “Muslim patrimony.” Turkey’s President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan made that clear. “When Israeli soldiers carelessly pollute the grounds of Al-Aqsa with their combat boots by using simple issues as a pretext and then easily spill blood there, the reason [they are able to do that] is we [Muslims] have not done enough to stake our claim over Jerusalem.”

Israel, to the relief — and kind words — of the White House, has removed the metal detectors, but far from resolving the problem, the retreat encouraged Fatah to announce it would “intensify the struggle” because the “campaign for Jerusalem has effectively begun, and will not stop until a Palestinian victory and the release of the holy sites from Israeli occupation.”

Two important issues have to be sorted out here: first, the political and religious rights of Jews in their indigenous space; and second, the right not to be murdered for the “crime” of being Jewish, or Israeli, or non-Jewish and non-Israeli but being in Israel. Among the recent victims of Palestinian terror are Druze Muslim police officers Kamil Shnaan, 22 and Haiel Sitawe, and American Vanderbilt University student and U.S. Army veteran Taylor Force, as well as American and Israeli Jews.

Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people — the restoration of Jewish sovereignty to even part of the historic homeland was prayed for since the end of the Second Jewish Commonwealth and celebrated since 1948. In the 20th century, Jews and Israelis accepted various suggestions and commands for borders of a reconstituted State — everything from the lopping off of 75% of the British Mandate for a Judenrein Arab state (1917) to the split-state Peel Commission Partition Plan (1937) to the British Partition Plan (1938) to the Jewish Agency plan (1946) to the much smaller UN Partition Plan (1947).

The Arab states agreed to none of those and declined to say where Jews might then exercise sovereignty — because there was no such place. The 1949-67 lines were unacceptable and so were the post-67 lines. Israel and the U.S. posited new lines after the Oslo Accords, and in 2008 when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed 93% of the West Bank plus political rights in Jerusalem for the Palestinians (the Gaza Strip already being 100% in Palestinian hands). Mahmoud Abbas said no.

“No” was the necessary answer because the Palestinians agree there is no legitimate place for Jews to exercise sovereign authority. This goes directly to the question of the Temple Mount and metal detectors.

Jews have prayed alongside the Western Wall since, perhaps, the 12th century, and certainly since the 16th century, when the Ottoman Sultan gave them official permission to do so, according to scholar Nadav Shragai. The Arab warning, “Al Aksa (the mosque on the Temple Mount) is in danger” –- used in this case by Abbas –- has been a call for shedding Jewish blood by Arabs for more than a century. The originator of the lie was Haj Amin al Husseini –- the Hitler acolyte Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the earlier part of the 20th Century. Abbas and Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel carry on his legacy.

In 1967, in an audacious (or there are other words) act of generosity, the Government of Israel informed the Arab Waqf that Israel would not assert sovereignty over the top of the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism; that its administration would remain in the hands of the Waqf and King Hussein of Jordan. The Hashemite King is by history the “Guardian of the Mosques” (Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem).

Israel adopted the Arab position that Jews could not conduct prayer atop the Temple Mount, although visits by Jews and others were commonplace for decades after. Israel did, however, maintain security control through a negotiated series of steps with the Jordanians, the Waqf and later the PA. At various points, the Temple Mount was the scene of Palestinians throwing rocks down on worshippers at the Western Wall plaza, but at no time until last Friday were guns used on or from the Temple Mount.

To prevent further weapons use, Israel searched the mosque and installed metal detectors. It is hard to get Americans excited about that -– we’ve been taking off our shoes, agreeing to be x-rayed and patted down, and tossing our Starbucks for years, precisely because Palestinian terror (remember who started airplane hijacking) was focused on civilian rather than military objectives.

But in Palestinian eyes, if Israel assumed the right to install metal detectors without negotiation, Israel assumed control of the space. And that, like every other manifestation of Israeli sovereign decision-making, is unacceptable to the Palestinians.  

Cue the howling!

“Al Aqsa is under attack!” didn’t mean Israel was shooting at the mosque, or that Israel had claimed it for Jewish prayer. It meant the sovereign Jewish state had exercised a governmental decision affecting the Temple Mount. And that was enough for Omar al-Abed to announce on his Facebook page that he would die a glorious death for al Aqsa. “All I have is a sharpened knife and it answers the call of al Aqsa.” He called Jews “pigs and monkeys,” a familiar phrase.

He put on a white shirt and black slacks -– the standard Sabbath dress of Orthodox Jewish men –- and knocked on the door of 70-year-old Yosef Salomon. The Salomons, who were expecting guests as they welcomed the birth of Yosef’s grandson, opened the door. Photos of the massacre scene show rivers of blood on the floor from Yosef, his daughter Chaya and son Elad. They can’t show the screams of Yosef’s wife Tova as she bled from stab wounds and watched her husband and children die.

As a result, Al-Abed stands to receive the standard PA “salary” for convicted terrorists –- and, happily for him, he committed his crime after Palestinian authorities announced a salary increase of 13%.

If the United States wants to help bring peace to a troubled place, it will focus on the Palestinians what territory and rights they claim, what heroes they pay and venerate, what constitutes a “crime” vs. “glory” in their lexicon, and –- most important –- what they believe are the sovereign rights of the citizens of the Third Jewish Commonwealth. If the Palestinians are honest (hmm?) the answer to the last is “none,” the conversation is over, and metal detectors are the least of the problem.

The disgusting terror murders of two Israeli policemen (one shot in the back) on the Temple Mount, coupled with the indescribable terror murders of three Israelis (grandfather, father, and aunt) celebrating the birth of a baby at their Sabbath dinner, were met with howls of outrage and threats of retaliatory violence and even religious war –- not by Israelis seeking vengeance, but by Palestinians!

Echoed by Jordanians, al Jazeera, and the UN, Palestinian strongman Mahmoud Abbas claimed he couldn’t be held responsible for escalated violence if Israel maintained the metal detectors on the Temple Mount installed to prevent a recurrence of violence directed at Jews.  

Nothing in the Middle East is ever what it looks like. Metal detectors may be metal detectors elsewhere, but on the Temple Mount they are an attack on “Muslim patrimony.” Turkey’s President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan made that clear. “When Israeli soldiers carelessly pollute the grounds of Al-Aqsa with their combat boots by using simple issues as a pretext and then easily spill blood there, the reason [they are able to do that] is we [Muslims] have not done enough to stake our claim over Jerusalem.”

Israel, to the relief — and kind words — of the White House, has removed the metal detectors, but far from resolving the problem, the retreat encouraged Fatah to announce it would “intensify the struggle” because the “campaign for Jerusalem has effectively begun, and will not stop until a Palestinian victory and the release of the holy sites from Israeli occupation.”

Two important issues have to be sorted out here: first, the political and religious rights of Jews in their indigenous space; and second, the right not to be murdered for the “crime” of being Jewish, or Israeli, or non-Jewish and non-Israeli but being in Israel. Among the recent victims of Palestinian terror are Druze Muslim police officers Kamil Shnaan, 22 and Haiel Sitawe, and American Vanderbilt University student and U.S. Army veteran Taylor Force, as well as American and Israeli Jews.

Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people — the restoration of Jewish sovereignty to even part of the historic homeland was prayed for since the end of the Second Jewish Commonwealth and celebrated since 1948. In the 20th century, Jews and Israelis accepted various suggestions and commands for borders of a reconstituted State — everything from the lopping off of 75% of the British Mandate for a Judenrein Arab state (1917) to the split-state Peel Commission Partition Plan (1937) to the British Partition Plan (1938) to the Jewish Agency plan (1946) to the much smaller UN Partition Plan (1947).

The Arab states agreed to none of those and declined to say where Jews might then exercise sovereignty — because there was no such place. The 1949-67 lines were unacceptable and so were the post-67 lines. Israel and the U.S. posited new lines after the Oslo Accords, and in 2008 when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed 93% of the West Bank plus political rights in Jerusalem for the Palestinians (the Gaza Strip already being 100% in Palestinian hands). Mahmoud Abbas said no.

“No” was the necessary answer because the Palestinians agree there is no legitimate place for Jews to exercise sovereign authority. This goes directly to the question of the Temple Mount and metal detectors.

Jews have prayed alongside the Western Wall since, perhaps, the 12th century, and certainly since the 16th century, when the Ottoman Sultan gave them official permission to do so, according to scholar Nadav Shragai. The Arab warning, “Al Aksa (the mosque on the Temple Mount) is in danger” –- used in this case by Abbas –- has been a call for shedding Jewish blood by Arabs for more than a century. The originator of the lie was Haj Amin al Husseini –- the Hitler acolyte Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the earlier part of the 20th Century. Abbas and Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel carry on his legacy.

In 1967, in an audacious (or there are other words) act of generosity, the Government of Israel informed the Arab Waqf that Israel would not assert sovereignty over the top of the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism; that its administration would remain in the hands of the Waqf and King Hussein of Jordan. The Hashemite King is by history the “Guardian of the Mosques” (Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem).

Israel adopted the Arab position that Jews could not conduct prayer atop the Temple Mount, although visits by Jews and others were commonplace for decades after. Israel did, however, maintain security control through a negotiated series of steps with the Jordanians, the Waqf and later the PA. At various points, the Temple Mount was the scene of Palestinians throwing rocks down on worshippers at the Western Wall plaza, but at no time until last Friday were guns used on or from the Temple Mount.

To prevent further weapons use, Israel searched the mosque and installed metal detectors. It is hard to get Americans excited about that -– we’ve been taking off our shoes, agreeing to be x-rayed and patted down, and tossing our Starbucks for years, precisely because Palestinian terror (remember who started airplane hijacking) was focused on civilian rather than military objectives.

But in Palestinian eyes, if Israel assumed the right to install metal detectors without negotiation, Israel assumed control of the space. And that, like every other manifestation of Israeli sovereign decision-making, is unacceptable to the Palestinians.  

Cue the howling!

“Al Aqsa is under attack!” didn’t mean Israel was shooting at the mosque, or that Israel had claimed it for Jewish prayer. It meant the sovereign Jewish state had exercised a governmental decision affecting the Temple Mount. And that was enough for Omar al-Abed to announce on his Facebook page that he would die a glorious death for al Aqsa. “All I have is a sharpened knife and it answers the call of al Aqsa.” He called Jews “pigs and monkeys,” a familiar phrase.

He put on a white shirt and black slacks -– the standard Sabbath dress of Orthodox Jewish men –- and knocked on the door of 70-year-old Yosef Salomon. The Salomons, who were expecting guests as they welcomed the birth of Yosef’s grandson, opened the door. Photos of the massacre scene show rivers of blood on the floor from Yosef, his daughter Chaya and son Elad. They can’t show the screams of Yosef’s wife Tova as she bled from stab wounds and watched her husband and children die.

As a result, Al-Abed stands to receive the standard PA “salary” for convicted terrorists –- and, happily for him, he committed his crime after Palestinian authorities announced a salary increase of 13%.

If the United States wants to help bring peace to a troubled place, it will focus on the Palestinians what territory and rights they claim, what heroes they pay and venerate, what constitutes a “crime” vs. “glory” in their lexicon, and –- most important –- what they believe are the sovereign rights of the citizens of the Third Jewish Commonwealth. If the Palestinians are honest (hmm?) the answer to the last is “none,” the conversation is over, and metal detectors are the least of the problem.



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Does Trump Get the Israel-Arab Problem?


Following high-level meetings with foreign leaders, the U.S. State Department issues a “readout,” an official statement to cover and characterize the event.  This week, Jared Kushner, assistant to the president, and Jason Greenblatt, special representative for international negotiations, met with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.  At the first meeting, they were accompanied by U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, at the second by consul general in Jerusalem Don Bome.

The language was precisely the same in both readouts – with the exception of a single sentence modified in each – and included affirmation of “their commitment to advancing President Trump’s goal of a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians that enhances stability in the region.”

The exception was:

  • “The three officials discussed Israel’s priorities and potential next steps with Prime Minister Netanyahu, acknowledging the critical role Israel plays in the security of the region.”
  • “The three officials discussed priorities for the Palestinians and potential next steps, acknowledging the need for economic opportunities for Palestinians and major investments in the Palestinian economy.”

There are three things to learn from the readout.

First, if the administration believes that the goal is “peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” it is in for the same disappointment faced by its predecessors.  Peace is not a negotiable property – peace is at best the outgrowth of the settlement of a dispute by war or by politics.  (Machiavelli called it “the condition imposed by the winner on the loser of the last war.”)  The dispute is and always was over the legitimacy and permanence of the State of Israel in the region.

The parties to the dispute are Israel and the Arab states, not Israel and the Palestinians.  The crux of the dispute is the continuing refusal of Arab states – the losers of all the wars – to meet the central requirement of U.N. Resolution 242.

Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

If the Arab States, including Saudi Arabia – the president’s hoped-for partner in fighting Islamic radicalization – cannot accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel, it is impossible to believe that the Palestinians – riven with dissention, weak, corrupt, and split between the dictatorial hand of an 82-year-old who is in the 11th year of a four-year term and a fascist Islamic cadre in Gaza – will be able to make a deal with the Jewish State.  

Asking the Palestinians to step out ahead of the Saudis, Qataris, Omanis, and others whose states of war with Israel predate the establishment of Israel in 1948 and continue to this day is asking too much.  If, on the other hand, the Sunni Arab states are serious about a regional perspective that involves Israel, ending their illegitimate holdout on Resolution 242 would give the Palestinians more confidence that Abu Mazen or his successor won’t be the next Anwar Sadat.  And it will further undermine the legitimacy of Hamas in Gaza, advancing President Trump’s goal of reducing radicalism in the region.

The second thing to learn from the readout is that the administration sees the Palestinian problem in economic terms and is prepared to work toward “major investments in the Palestinian economy.”  Here it is useful to refer to former secretary of state John Kerry, who, in 2013, announced his intention to raise $4.2 billion in private investment for the West Bank with the aim of increasing Palestinian GDP by 50%, cutting its unemployment by 66%, and just about doubling median Palestinian income.

The Palestinian response was that it will not be “bribed” into recognition of Israel.  “The Palestinian leadership will not offer political concessions in exchange for economic benefits,” Mohammad Mustafa, president of the Palestine Investment Fund and economic adviser to Mahmud Abbas, said in a statement.

In some ways, that position is a cover for economic reality – something Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt well understand.  As I wrote in 2013, “In reality, investment flows organically to places with an educated population, security, and rule of law that protects intellectual property and the repatriation of profits. It flows, for example, to Israel. Countries or areas with corrupt financial practices, a dictatorial, bifurcated government, multiple security services and an education system that is heavy on ideology and the veneration of violence get less.”

Palestinian poverty is not a plague or an earthquake that needs remediation; it is intimately related to Palestinian government policy.

And third, there is a difference between the State Department readout on a single meeting and what happens the rest of the time.  The readout conveys a sense of agreement on peace and economic advancement.  An Associated Press report, however, indicates that in a preparatory meeting, Greenblatt raised the issue of Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and their families and cited that a Palestinian official complained that “the Americans ‘are buying’ Netanyahu’s complaints … and that Greenblatt was insisting on an end to the welfare payments.”  He called the meeting “tense.”  In another report, journalist Khalid Abu Toameh wrote that a Palestinian official complained, “Kushner and Greenblatt represent Netanyahu, and not the U.S. administration. They act according to Netanyahu’s instructions.”

The idea that American officials take orders from Israel is an old anti-Semitic canard, resurrected here for the new administration.  Some things are better left out of the readout.

Following high-level meetings with foreign leaders, the U.S. State Department issues a “readout,” an official statement to cover and characterize the event.  This week, Jared Kushner, assistant to the president, and Jason Greenblatt, special representative for international negotiations, met with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.  At the first meeting, they were accompanied by U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, at the second by consul general in Jerusalem Don Bome.

The language was precisely the same in both readouts – with the exception of a single sentence modified in each – and included affirmation of “their commitment to advancing President Trump’s goal of a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians that enhances stability in the region.”

The exception was:

  • “The three officials discussed Israel’s priorities and potential next steps with Prime Minister Netanyahu, acknowledging the critical role Israel plays in the security of the region.”
  • “The three officials discussed priorities for the Palestinians and potential next steps, acknowledging the need for economic opportunities for Palestinians and major investments in the Palestinian economy.”

There are three things to learn from the readout.

First, if the administration believes that the goal is “peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” it is in for the same disappointment faced by its predecessors.  Peace is not a negotiable property – peace is at best the outgrowth of the settlement of a dispute by war or by politics.  (Machiavelli called it “the condition imposed by the winner on the loser of the last war.”)  The dispute is and always was over the legitimacy and permanence of the State of Israel in the region.

The parties to the dispute are Israel and the Arab states, not Israel and the Palestinians.  The crux of the dispute is the continuing refusal of Arab states – the losers of all the wars – to meet the central requirement of U.N. Resolution 242.

Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

If the Arab States, including Saudi Arabia – the president’s hoped-for partner in fighting Islamic radicalization – cannot accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel, it is impossible to believe that the Palestinians – riven with dissention, weak, corrupt, and split between the dictatorial hand of an 82-year-old who is in the 11th year of a four-year term and a fascist Islamic cadre in Gaza – will be able to make a deal with the Jewish State.  

Asking the Palestinians to step out ahead of the Saudis, Qataris, Omanis, and others whose states of war with Israel predate the establishment of Israel in 1948 and continue to this day is asking too much.  If, on the other hand, the Sunni Arab states are serious about a regional perspective that involves Israel, ending their illegitimate holdout on Resolution 242 would give the Palestinians more confidence that Abu Mazen or his successor won’t be the next Anwar Sadat.  And it will further undermine the legitimacy of Hamas in Gaza, advancing President Trump’s goal of reducing radicalism in the region.

The second thing to learn from the readout is that the administration sees the Palestinian problem in economic terms and is prepared to work toward “major investments in the Palestinian economy.”  Here it is useful to refer to former secretary of state John Kerry, who, in 2013, announced his intention to raise $4.2 billion in private investment for the West Bank with the aim of increasing Palestinian GDP by 50%, cutting its unemployment by 66%, and just about doubling median Palestinian income.

The Palestinian response was that it will not be “bribed” into recognition of Israel.  “The Palestinian leadership will not offer political concessions in exchange for economic benefits,” Mohammad Mustafa, president of the Palestine Investment Fund and economic adviser to Mahmud Abbas, said in a statement.

In some ways, that position is a cover for economic reality – something Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt well understand.  As I wrote in 2013, “In reality, investment flows organically to places with an educated population, security, and rule of law that protects intellectual property and the repatriation of profits. It flows, for example, to Israel. Countries or areas with corrupt financial practices, a dictatorial, bifurcated government, multiple security services and an education system that is heavy on ideology and the veneration of violence get less.”

Palestinian poverty is not a plague or an earthquake that needs remediation; it is intimately related to Palestinian government policy.

And third, there is a difference between the State Department readout on a single meeting and what happens the rest of the time.  The readout conveys a sense of agreement on peace and economic advancement.  An Associated Press report, however, indicates that in a preparatory meeting, Greenblatt raised the issue of Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and their families and cited that a Palestinian official complained that “the Americans ‘are buying’ Netanyahu’s complaints … and that Greenblatt was insisting on an end to the welfare payments.”  He called the meeting “tense.”  In another report, journalist Khalid Abu Toameh wrote that a Palestinian official complained, “Kushner and Greenblatt represent Netanyahu, and not the U.S. administration. They act according to Netanyahu’s instructions.”

The idea that American officials take orders from Israel is an old anti-Semitic canard, resurrected here for the new administration.  Some things are better left out of the readout.



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