Monday, February 19, 2018

Mid-East on a hair trigger as Israel, Iran clash

From The Australian February 17, 2018, by GREG SHERIDAN, Foreign Editor:

Israeli security oficers at the wreckage of an F-16 shot down by Syria in northern Israel on February 10.
Israeli security oficers at the wreckage of an F-16 shot down by Syria in northern Israel on February 10

...last weekend we possibly moved much closer to a major new war in the Middle East.

Nobody could describe the wars in Syria and Iraq as anything other than significant, but they have not involved big conventional clashes between big conventional forces.

Last weekend, some scribes are saying, was the first day of direct military conflict between Israel and Iran, with the US and Russia only a hair’s breadth away.

The bald facts are these. An Iranian base inside Syria, known as T-4 and located to the northwest of Palmyra, launched an unmanned aerial vehicle — a drone — into Israeli airspace. It is not known if the drone was armed or whether it was a stealth drone. It certainly seems to be modelled on US drones, which the Iranians have captured in the past and reverse-engineered.

The Israelis waited for it to come into their airspace and then shot it down with an Apache helicopter. Subsequently, the Israelis sent F-16 fighter aircraft to attack the base from which it was launched. One of the Israeli F-16s was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles on the journey back over Israeli airspace.

This is the first time the Israelis have lost an advanced fighter jet in combat in several decades. And we know that during the past five years Israel has conducted about 100 single strikes on targets in Syria, mainly weapons supplies going from Iran to Hezbollah, or the launch sites of rockets or other fire aimed at Israel.

In retaliation at losing the F-16, Israel launched a second wave of air attacks against at least 12 Syrian targets, mainly Syrian anti-aircraft defences. It also attacked four Iranian bases in Syria.

This is an incredibly dangerous mixture of forces. The Syrians have always had air defences. They have never been able to seriously hurt Israeli planes, although of course Israel hardly makes a practice of gratuitous strikes on Syria. However, two external factors are now making the air defence threat to Israel much stronger. They are the involvement of Iran and Russia.

Iran is the mortal danger to Israel but the presence of Russia is also exceptionally complicating, and dangerous in itself. There is strong evidence that Russian “irregulars” as well as normal Russian soldiers have been involved in professionalising and upgrading the joint Syrian-Iranian military efforts, of which air defences are a part. Most of this effort, Moscow would allege, has been directed at fighting Islamic State.

However, the Russians also have been deeply involved in helping the Syrian regime fight against, and reclaim territory from, other forces in Syria, some of which, including but not only the Kurds, are backed by the US. This recently led to a direct clash between US forces and Syrian government forces.

Over all of this we have to lay the broader strategic ambitions of Iran in the Middle East and its preparations for war with Israel.

The Israeli-Arab conflict is a side show compared with the Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East, and potentially a war between Israel and Iran.

That is not to say Iran has decided to initiate a war with Israel, but it is making systematic preparations to be able to do so.

Iran now has a massive military establishment in Syria. This consists of substantial numbers of Revolutionary Guards troops. There are also the Iranian-fin­anced Popular Mobilisation Units. These are groups of Shia Islamist fanatics drawn from a wide range of nations, from the minority Shia communities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and throughout the Arab world, as well as from Iraq. There are also 6000 to 8000 Shia Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon in Syria; they are also directed by Iran.

Hezbollah has claimed that there are now something like 70,000 missiles in Shia hands in Syria, all of which could be fired at Israel. Hezbollah in Lebanon has an arsenal of about 180,000 mis­siles. These naturally encompass a very wide range of lethality. However, there are many more heavy payload missiles, and many more with precision guidance, than Hezbollah had during Israel’s last war with Lebanon back in 2006.

And then in Gaza there is the other leg of Iranian influence, Hamas, which also has a store of missiles.

Iran has established a long arc of influence and effective territorial control, from Iraq through Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean, with huge influence among Shia minorities in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere.

The drone incident last weekend is open to several interpretations. It may be that the Iranians intentionally sent the drone to draw an Israeli response in the confident hope that the improved air defences could shoot down an Israeli jet.

It is also widely speculated that the retaliatory missions Israel undertook were much more dangerous because the Israelis had to be so careful not to hit Russian targets, as far as possible.

So far, an incredibly dangerous modus vivendi seems to prevail between the Israelis and the Russians. Moscow has been helping the Assad regime in Syria and is happy to co-operate with Iran. This is mainly to consolidate Moscow’s influence in Syria — but Russia is also happy to cause distress to the US and its friends in Syria.

At the same time, Russia, notionally at least, has good relations with Israel. There is a huge ethnic Russian cohort in the Israeli population. In so far as public opinion means anything in Russia, it is not in favour of Islamists against Israel. Vladimir Putin has presented his Syrian adventurism as being opposed to Islamism.

The Israelis don’t ask the Russians for permission when they find it necessary to strike a target in Syria. But they do tell the Russians what they are doing.

Russia’s attitude seems to be that it doesn’t mind the Israelis striking Moscow’s Syrian allies — the Assad government or the Iranians in Syria — so long as the Israelis don’t strike the Russians themselves. This is an inherently very unstable accommodation.

About a year ago I spent a few weeks in Israel, including some time on the Syrian and Lebanese borders.

I was struck on the Lebanese border by the sight of a series of concrete walls and barriers that Israel had built to impede any large-scale movement of Hezbollah fighters into Israel.

Throughout the Israeli national security establishment, people were talking openly about the likely shape of the next Lebanese war.

Hezbollah has learned a lot of technical lessons from the encounter of 2006. It has dispersed its missile launch sites and put as many as possible in the heart of civilian establishments — hospitals, schools, residential buildings.

It has developed missiles that can be fired remotely, which don’t need any personnel around at the time of fire. It has spread its mis­siles far beyond southern Lebanon so that Israel would be forced to attack sites all over Lebanon to suppress the missiles.

And there is some evidence of tunnels into Israel, so that a missile war could be accompanied by large-scale human infiltration and murderous terrorism.

So it is at least possible that Iran is contemplating the mother of all battles with Israel.

If Hezbollah launched a missile war with Israel from Lebanon, and Iranian proxies simultaneously did the same thing from Syria, and Hamas did the same thing from Gaza, this would cause the maximum stress, suffering and dislocation possible in Israel.

The Israelis have state-of-the-art missile defences, but in a saturation war quite a lot of stuff will get through. Obvious targets include Israel’s nuclear facilities at Dimona, its petrochemical plant in Haifa and Ben-Gurion international airport in Tel Aviv.

Israel, of course, would not be powerless in the face of such an attack. Its response would have to be ferocious. However, it would, as the downing of the F-16 showed, be likely to suffer far greater air force losses than in previous conflicts. Maintaining a big air force is critical for Israel. It is also likely that Israel would have to engage in large ground operations in Lebanon very quickly. It may even be forced to evacuate a good deal of its northern population.

Of course, Israel could expect massive logistic, political and other support from the US.

And certainly the Israelis have cyber capabilities and electromagnetic warfare capabilities that at this stage we can only guess at.

The object of such an assault on Israel would be an attempt to break decisively its economy and its morale. Whatever happened, there would be terrible suffering and loss of life on all sides in such a conflict.

However, here is a critical judgment. It is still likelier than not that this sort of war will not come about. But it has gone from about a 2 per cent possibility to perhaps a 30 per cent possibility.

The likeliest scenario is that Iran continues to build up all the elements for launching such a war if it wants to, while it soon makes a sprint for nuclear weapons capabilities to match its burgeoning missile capabilities.

Having a loaded gun on a hair trigger, rather than launching an all-out offensive, is probably Iran’s preferred position. Until now, it attacks Israel via proxies and Israel hits back only at the proxies. But if it launched an attack on that scale, it could not predict the extent of Israel’s response.

Even if this is Tehran’s calculation, not every Iranian proxy will necessarily follow orders, especially if the orders are not to attack. The presence of the Russians, and all the other foreign forces in Syria, makes the possibility of catastrophic miscalculation quite strong.

In the Middle East, one truth endures. No matter how bad things are, they can always get much worse.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What will be Russia's reaction to this weekend's events?

From The Times of Israel, 12 February 2018, by Judah Ari Gross:

...Army, analysts agree: Israeli aerial superiority shouldn't be in question because one plane got shot down -- but Russia's reaction to this weekend's events is a different matter

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of an Israeli F-16 is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, February 10, 2018. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)
In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of an Israeli F-16 is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, February 10, 2018. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

The apparent downing of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet by Syrian air defenses was an enormous public relations win for dictator Bashar Assad and his allies Iran and Hezbollah.

...In Israel, the downed F-16 prompted widespread hand-wringing and discussions about whether or not the Jewish state still maintains air superiority in the region.

...[But] Israel hasn’t had true air superiority in the region since late 2015, when Russia decided to install an S-400 missile defense battery in Syria powerful enough to track the vast majority of Israeli airspace.


S-400 Triumf missile defense system at the Russian Hmeimin military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria, on December 16, 2015. (Paul Gypteau/AFP)

...“A fly can’t buzz above Syria without Russian consent nowadays,” an Israeli defense official told the International Crisis Group think tank after the S-400 was installed.

...The F-16 was shot down on Saturday morning after it and seven other fighter jets took part in an airstrike on the T-4 military base near Palmyra in central Syria, from which the IDF says an Iranian operator flew an Iranian drone into Israeli territory an hour earlier.

The downing of the F-16 might have ended a false notion of the Israeli Air Force’s invincibility, but it does not have serious negative consequences for Israel’s aerial dominance, experts say.


View of the remains of an F-16 plane that crashed near Kibbutz Harduf on February 10, 2018. (Anat Hermony/Flash90)

Far more serious is the potential for Russia to end the policy it has maintained until now of not taking direct action against Israeli planes conducting airstrikes against targets in Syria.

...The Israeli military does not see the downing of the F-16 as the disastrous loss it’s being painted as and still considers itself as having aerial superiority, though it does recognize it as a “significant event,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told The Times of Israel on Monday.
“Yes, a plane was shot down... But let’s keep it in proportion. The important thing is that an hour after this plane fell, we went out and destroyed about half of Syria’s air defenses.”...

How it came down
The initial assessments of the event indicate that the plane was brought down while flying over Israel after a large volley of anti-aircraft missiles — at least five, but possibly more — were fired at it, Conricus said.

The army said it was still investigating if the plane was brought down because it was operating at a high altitude to ensure its bombs were hitting their targets, which made it easier for Syrian air defenses to spot and fire at it, and failed to react quickly enough, as was reported in Israeli media outlets on Sunday.

Conricus said the initial investigation should be completed shortly, after reviewing the evidence and speaking with the flight crew.

On Monday, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily also reported that another fighter jet was also targeted by the Syrian anti-aircraft missiles in the same barrage but managed to escape.

It therefore does not appear to be the result of any kind of new Syria capability or unknown Israeli vulnerability, but some combination of human error, lucky timing and, perhaps, a degree of hubris by the flight team.

Brig. Gen. Amnon Ein Dar, head of the air force’s Training and Doctrine Division:
“There’s no [new] issue that we hadn’t previously identified. We operate in Syria continuously, conducting thousands of missions in Syria in just the last year...There are many levels of protection for a plane during a mission: intelligence, electronic [warfare], the flight team itself. We’re going to go level by level to find out what happened...” 
Dominance in the air battle
Regardless of the exact cause of the F-16’s destruction, one event is not what determines air superiority, according to Yiftah Shapir, a former air force officer and analyst on quantitative military balance who has written on the concept.


An Israeli Air Force F-16C takes off during the Blue Flag air exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 8, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Air superiority is defined by NATO as “that degree of dominance in the air battle of one force over another which permits the conduct of operations by the former and its related land, sea and air forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the opposing force.”

As a result, Shapir said on Monday, “You never look at one lone case. You calculate the possibilities. If X air defense can bring down this or that many airplanes, then you can say if it’s prohibitive or not.”

Those equations don’t change because of one airplane, said Shapir, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies.

Lt. Col. (res.) Reuven Ben-Shalom, a former IAF pilot and current analyst, was even more direct.
“It doesn’t mean anything about our air superiority. You can have superiority and you can win, while still losing people...” ...
Ben-Shalom described the downing of an F-16, sinking of a ship or destruction of a tank as simply the cost of waging war, though he said it’s not one the Israeli public is used to paying.

...The issue, according to Ben-Shalom and Shapir, is in part that the Israeli Air Force has been too good in recent years, leading to unrealistic expectations.
“It is nothing short of a wonder that in the operations in Gaza [terrorist groups] haven’t been able to take a fleck of paint off our aircraft,” Shapir said, noting that these groups have shoulder-fired missiles and other weapons that could feasibly hit an Israeli helicopter or low-flying plane.

According to Ben-Shalom, who runs a strategy firm, these victories have made “us used to acting freely and nothing happening.”...

While the downing of the F-16 might not indicate a change in Israeli air dominance, it is not yet fully clear what impact this weekend will have on the air force’s freedom of operation in Syria.

On the one hand, the air force’s destruction of a large percentage of Syria’s air defense would indicate that Israel could operate more freely in the country in the future.

The serious blow to the Syrian anti-aircraft systems, which air force officials say was the most significant of its kind since 1982, was also meant to send a message to Assad of what’s to come if he again fires on Israeli aircraft. If that was internalized by the despot, this too could smooth the way for future Israeli missions in Syria.


Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, November 20, 2017. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin via AP)

The Russian complication
But on the other hand, there is rising concern over how Russia — by whose grace Israeli pilots are currently flying — will react to its ally, Assad, getting pummeled by Israel.

Moscow, which has not accepted Israel’s claims, could make its efforts more difficult, risky and complicated, Ben-Shalom said, though he is convinced that Israel could get by even if Russia took a more antagonistic view.

According to Shapir, the problem is not the capabilities of Russia’s S-400 themselves, but that Israel would rather not go to direct war by attempting to disable the system, which it might be more inclined to do if it belonged to another country.
“[Israel’s freedom of movement] isn’t limited because the system is an S-400, but because it is flying the Russian flag...” ...

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Iran-Israel War Flares Up

From WSJ, 11 February 2018, by Tony Badran and  Jonathan Schanzer*:

The fight is over a Qods Force presence on the Syria-Israel border. How will the U.S. respond?

Israeli soldiers inspect the wreckage of the downed F-16 Saturday.
Israeli soldiers inspect the wreckage of the downed F-16 Saturday. 
PHOTO: ABIR SULTAN/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

The conflict between Israel and Iran may be heating up after a half-decade simmer. On Friday night Iran dispatched a drone from Syria that penetrated Israeli airspace in the Golan Heights. Israel destroyed it with an Apache helicopter. Then on Saturday Israel sent eight F-16s across the border to strike the airfield in the Homs governorate, called the T-4 base, where the drone originated, as well as a handful of other Iranian targets. Although the mission was a success, one F-16 was shot down by Syrian antiaircraft fire—though the pilot made it back to Israel, where he and his navigator ejected successfully.

This was the most significant clash to date between Israel and the so-called Axis of Resistance—Iran, Syria’s Assad regime and Hezbollah—since Iran began deploying soldiers and proxies to Syria six years ago. 

Israel insists its response was limited and its intent is to contain this conflagration. Its critics worry that the skirmish could explode into one of the worst wars the Middle East has ever seen.

The Iranians have been exploiting the chaos of the Syrian civil war to build up military assets there that target Israel, all the while sending advanced weaponry to Lebanon by way of Damascus, also under the fog of war. 

The Israelis have been vigilant; they have destroyed some of this hardware in Syria with one-off strikes. In December they struck an Iranian base southwest of Damascus, some 30 miles from the Golan Heights. But they had never entered Syria with the kind of overwhelming force seen on Saturday morning.

What prompted this level of response is still unclear. Israeli military officials won’t say whether the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle was armed. It would be a surprise, though, if Israel’s reprisal was prompted by an unarmed UAV. Indeed, this was not the first drone incursion into the Golan Heights. Last year, Israel’s missile defenses intercepted several Iranian-built drones, operated by Hezbollah, attempting to enter Israeli airspace from Syria.

The Israel Defense Forces had warned that the T-4 base was crawling with fighters from Iran’s Qods Force, an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had paid multiple visits to Moscow hoping to convince President Vladimir Putin to curb the threatening activities of Iran and its proxies. Mr. Putin has established a formidable presence in Syria since 2015, when his forces entered the country ostensibly to combat Islamic State.

The Israelis took a significant risk Saturday of rankling the Russians, especially since they reportedly did not warn Moscow of the attack in advance. Russian personnel sometimes embed with Syrian air-defense units and are sometimes present at the T-4 base. Thus the strike might have been intended as a message to the Russians as much as to the Iranian axis.

Whether Russia had advance knowledge of the Iranian drone operation isn’t clear. Nor do we know whether Russia was involved in unleashing the Syrian surface-to-air missiles that downed the Israeli F-16. What we do know is that after many Israeli airstrikes in Syria over many months, this was the first time Syrian antiaircraft weapons managed to hit a target. That points toward Russian involvement.

Even so, the Israelis were not deterred from launching, within hours, a second wave of airstrikes against additional Iranian and Syrian targets, including air-defense sites, many of which likely had been monitored for months. According to Israeli sources, the second wave was the largest aerial attack against Syria since the Lebanon war of 1982, when the Israeli Air Force hammered Syria’s Soviet-built surface-to-air missile batteries in the Bekaa Valley.

Now all eyes are on Israel as it mulls its next moves. For Jerusalem, the status quo is unsustainable. The Iranians are clearly willing to absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position, which will prepare them for a future conflict with the Jewish state. So while Israel’s political leaders are eager to avoid conflict, the military brass may soon determine that postponing it would be the riskier course.

The Israelis also are working the phones with the Trump administration, which has affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself. That declaration will carry significance as Israel considers its options. Washington continues to tweak its new policy of targeting Iran with multiple instruments of American power. But this policy is encumbered somewhat by the White House’s agreement with Russia to maintain a “de-escalation zone” in southwest Syria—an agreement that clearly benefits Iran and the status quo.

The Pentagon and State Department have already condemned Iran and thrown their support behind Israel. The question now is whether the Trump administration will go further. In a speech last month unveiling the administration’s strategy for Syria, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson affirmed that the U.S. seeks not only to ensure its allies’ security but to deny Iran its “dreams of a northern arch” from Tehran to Beirut. A good way to achieve both objectives would be to back Israel’s responses to Iran’s aggression—now and in the future.

*Mr. Badran is a research fellow and Mr. Schanzer senior vice president for research of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

If you fly Qatar Airways, you support Hamas

9 February 2018, by Steve Lieblich:

I often see Facebook friends "check in" to Doha airport, often  en route from Australia to Europe and sometimes (indirectly) to Israel. I guess they don't realize that being a customer of Qatar Airways is helping to fund terror attacks on Israeli civilians and the billionaire lifestyles of Hamas leaders.


In May 2014, Qatar Airways’ chief executive officer, Akbar Al Baker said that the airline was now fully owned by the Qatar government. “We became fully government owned in July last year,” he said at a news conference, after the country’s sovereign fund bought a 50-percent stake from Qatar’s former prime minister and other shareholders.

Since Hamas assumed control in Gaza in 2007, Qatar has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the territory and backed Hamas diplomatically, sheltering its exiled leader Khaled Mashaal.
In 2007, Qatar was one of the only countries to back Hamas after the group booted the more moderate Palestinian Authority out of the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup. In 2012, its then-emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, became the first head of state to visit Gaza under Hamas rule, pledging to raise $400 million toward reconstruction.

In September 2014, Qatar, despite its attempts to improve its image, by welcoming foreign universities, backing al-Jazeera and planning to host the 2022 World Cup, was criticised in the US Congress for its championing of Hamas.

In November 2017, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said the IDF’s destruction of a tunnel leading from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory was a crime against the Palestinian people that hampered their "legitimate rights" to attack Israeli civilians.
“The State of Qatar expressed its strong condemnation of the Israeli shelling of Gaza Strip in which a number of Palestinians were martyred and others were injured… a continuation of the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people and a desperate attempt to obstruct their efforts for claiming their legitimate rights.”
Five Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists — including two senior commanders — and two terrorists from Hamas’s armed wing were killed as a result of the tunnel’s destruction. Senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh confirmed that the attack tunnel was built by his group for the purpose of kidnapping Israeli soldiers.

Qatar has long been a supporter of Hamas and has paid for much of the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after the terror group fought a 50-day war with Israel in 2014.

Qatar reiterated its “full support for the Palestinian people’s self-determination and restoration of all legitimate rights, foremost of which is the establishment of an independent and sovereign state on the borders of June 4, 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital.”

In response, in the same month (November 2017), in Washington: A US-Government bipartisan panel singled out Qatar by backing legislation that would slap sanctions on any countries or individuals providing financial and material support to the Islamic militant group Hamas. The proposed bill specifically criticised Qatar for having backed Hamas and hosting senior members of the militant group. The legislation cited a March 2014 Treasury Department report that said Qatar “has for many years openly financed Hamas.”

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain broke ties with Qatar earlier this year over allegations it funds terrorism. The US echoed the accusation.


Ismail Haniyeh (R) and Hamas associates on Haniyeh’s private plane on the way to Qatar at the onset of Operation Protective Edge.
A 27,000 square meter commercial development in Doha, including four towers, office and commercial space and a 10,000 square meter mall, is owned by the wife and children of another Hamas leader, Khaled Mashal. Read more

Last month (January 2018) The United States put Ismail Haniyeh, on its terror blacklist and slapped sanctions on him. The 55-year-old Haniyeh was named head of Hamas in May 2017. 
“Haniyeh has close links with Hamas... and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians … He has reportedly been involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Hamas has been responsible for an estimated 17 American lives killed in terrorist attacks.”
A few days ago (Thursday 9 February 2018) the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, promised Hamas terror group leader Ismail Hanieyh financial aid. Al Thani affirmed that Qatar would continue to “support the Palestinian people...”

It was the first phone conversation between a world leader and Haniyeh after the US’s decision to add the Hamas leader to its global terror blacklist. Haniyeh thanked the Qatari emir…

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Trump's Potential UNRWA Reforms

From the Middle East Forum, January 31, 2018:



... the Trump administration might "refuse to accept UNRWA's special status for 'Palestine refugees,'" and suspend all U.S. government funding of the group.

... the end of U.S. recognition of fake Palestinian refugees who never lived in what is today Israel, [will remove] a source of irredentism and terrorism.

Middle East Forum director Gregg Roman:
"So long as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency continues to proliferate 'refugees' and breed a victim mentality, it encourages conflict.... Should these reports be true, it would be a major step toward peace."
Forum president Daniel Pipes:
"The American taxpayer is UNRWA's largest donor, paying $370 million in 2016 alone... These funds support violent attacks on Jews, encourage corruption, and delay an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Forum encourages President Trump to take bold leadership and reign in a rogue organization."
These potential moves are consistent with the Forum's Israel Victory Project, which calls for delaying diplomacy until the Palestinians give up their effort to eliminate the Jewish state.

According to The Guardian, Al-Monitor, and NPR, President Trump adopted the Forum's idea when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and ordered the embassy moved there.

UNRWA: The UN Agency that Creates Palestinian Refugees

From Gatestone Institute, 29 January 2018, by Pierre Rehov:

  •  According to the UN's own definition, the status of "refugee" cannot be passed from generation to generation -- as it conveniently has been for the Palestinians. A Palestinian with a European, American or Jordanian passport has no reason to be considered a refugee. Except by UNRWA.
  • "Since the UN took them over, the Palestinians started burying their dead at night, without declaring them, in order to share their rations. As a result, for nearly 20 years, the official death rate in the camps was close to zero. In addition, there was a lot of movement between the camps. But these displacements were rarely recorded, so that a Palestinian could appear in several camps at the same time..." — Said Aburish, Palestinian Refugee and biographer of the late Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat.
  • UNRWA is not just a humanitarian agency. Its political stance is evident at all levels of the organization. A report from the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, says that the 2016-2017 curriculum for elementary schools in PA, partly funded by UNRWA, "teaches students to be martyrs, to demonize and deny the existence of Israel, and to focus on a 'return' to an exclusively Palestinian country."

In the context of announced budget cuts, the US administration recently announced that it will drastically reduce its financial support of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees). US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley wanted the outright cancellation of the $364 million allocated each year to the UN agency, as long as it did not implement reforms and transparency, but US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was for the time being content to halve the first tranche of aid, originally set at $125 million.

At the heart of this case is the desire of US President Donald Trump to stop financing any agency or international organization that does not reflect American interests. There is also, however, a 180-degree turn on the US position in the Arab-Israeli conflict by the new administration. It seems determined not to make the same mistakes -- and fall into the same traps -- as previous administrations.
First, what is UNRWA?

Established in December 1949 with a one-year mandate, UNRWA aimed at its birth to help resettle the 600,000 Palestinian Arabs who had fled the conflict zone during the rebirth of the state of Israel, after five Arab armies had attacked it -- and lost.
The causes of this exile were threefold, according to several polls undertaken in refugee camps and summarized in an article by Tibor Mende, published in French newspaper Le Monde on April 21, 1951:
"Some did not want to live in a Jewish state, others fled the battle and, once that was over, could not return home. Many more left because they were told that it was for a few days, a few weeks at most, and that they would return with the triumphant Arab armies. "
Surprisingly (or not), no parallel office was created to help the 870,000 Jews expelled and despoiled by the majority of Arab-Muslim countries between 1948 and 1974 -- including those militarily forced out of Judea and Samaria by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which hastened to rename this region the "West Bank" after illegally annexing it in 1948.

It is true that most of the Jews expelled from Arab countries were welcomed by Israel and in the Western world, whereas, with the exception of Jordan, no Arab country bordering the Jewish state made the slightest gesture to help its own victims in a conflict the Arabs had begun. They apparently preferred, instead, to let their co-religionists languish in the worst conditions, presumably in an effort to place the blame for their suffering on Israel.
In 1950, when Canada's General Howard Kennedy and Sir Henry Knight, the first UNRWA leaders, realized that their work was rendered impossible by the politicization of the humanitarian crisis with which they were charged, and that their mandate could not be fulfilled in such a short time, an English Labour MP, Richard Crossrian, was called to explain their failure in the House of Commons. His answer, as reported by Mende in Le Monde, was eloquent:
"As long as we rely on the United Nations to do something serious for the settlement of refugees, we will only deceive ourselves because the United Nations is a political organization. There is the Arab League, and all the politics of the Arab League. The Arab League needs the refugee problem to maintain cohesion against Israel. The refugee settlement would deprive her of her most important complaint ... "
This statement is arguably the best explanation for the fact that UNRWA, created for one year, as noted, is still in operation 70 years later.

In seven decades, the small humanitarian agency has become a monster. UNRWA now has responsibility for more than five million souls, of which only some 20,000 should be considered refugees according to the definition of the UN, which applies to millions of exiles around the world... with the intriguing exception of Palestinians.
"A refugee - within the meaning of the Convention of July 28, 1951 - is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries..."
Therefore, according to the UN's own definition, the status of "refugee" cannot be passed from generation to generation -- as it conveniently has been for the Palestinians. A Palestinian with a European, American or Jordanian passport has no reason to be considered a refugee. Except by UNRWA.
Compare some figures:
  • All refugees worldwide (with the exception of Palestinians) are supported by the United Nations High Council for Refugees (UNHCR). A staff of 10,966 executives and employees is trying to help 65.6 million victims, from Congo to Myanmar.
  • UNRWA employs 30,627 executives and 21,571 educators to care for the descendants of Palestinian refugees, whose number, even with the claims of supposedly inherited refugee status, remains ten times lower than all other persons displaced.
In other words, even if one accepts the inapplicable definition of the term "refugee" -- attributed not only to the exiles of 1948 but also to their descendants -- each beneficiary receives assistance in human assistance and money approximately 50 times higher than that of an African or Asian victim of persecution.

UNRWA's annual budget is close to $ 1 billion, of which more than a third, as noted, is funded by the US. Wait, there is more: Unlike other UN humanitarian agencies, the one in charge of the descendants of Palestinian refugees, has a pension fund -- and pensions on the stock market in various countries amount to more than a billion and a half dollars. These figures are astronomical, and only underscore several aberrations of UNRWA.
First, according to UNRWA:
"a refugee from Palestine is a person whose usual place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who lost both his home and his means of livelihood because of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. "
Clearly, any immigrant worker or visitor, regardless of his or her origin, could thereby enter the UNRWA statistics, if he could justify having spent just those two years inside what then became Israel.

Yasser Arafat's biographer, Said Aburish, a refugee from the northern region of Israel, and also a former adviser to the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, disclosed other aberrations when interviewed by the author:
"Since the UN took them over, the Palestinians started burying their dead at night, without declaring them, in order to share their rations. As a result, for nearly 20 years, the official death rate in the camps was close to zero. In addition, there was a lot of movement between the camps. But these displacements were rarely recorded, so that a Palestinian could appear in several camps at the same time, multiplying the financial support to which he was entitled." (Interview by the author, in 2006, featured in the documentary "From the River to the Sea.")
When it comes to UNRWA, however, the terms used to describe their mission quickly lose their meaning. The suburbs of Jenin and Ramallah, for instance, composed of small plush houses, bordering some overcrowded residences, continue to be called "refugee camps," while tents and stoves have long been replaced by solid constructions, all with sewage and electricity.

To quote a former minister and history professor, Shlomo Ben Ami, in an interview with the author, in May 2006: "Administrations, to survive, tend to perpetuate the problem they are supposed to solve".

UNRWA has mushroomed -- largely on account of at least five generations of "inherited refugee status" -- without apparently having even tried to solve a single refugee problem in seven decades.

In the 1960s, the Israeli government developed a humanitarian project for the self-rehabilitation of Gaza refugees. The idea was simple: it was to build modern residential neighborhoods in the unexploited areas of the formerly-Egyptian Gaza Strip. The 160,000 Palestinians living in camps there would obtain free loans, allowing them quick access to the property, while many would participate in the construction of units, infrastructure, schools and hospitals, in exchange for a salary that would allow them to repay the loan.

The reaction was not long in coming. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat immediately appealed to the Arab League, which immediately put pressure on the United Nations, causing the organization to immediately to condemn Israel for this initiative, and .and concluded its resolution with the following injunction: "Return the refugees to the camps!" The project was aborted after only 7,500 Palestinians were able to enjoy it.

This "incident" was reported by Tibor Mende in Le Monde. Mende discovered, on the ground, that any initiative aimed at integrating or rehabilitating Palestinian refugees from Lebanon -- where, today, they still have no rights, no access to the labor market, nor to the most basic care -- was prohibited, and concluded:
"These examples support the generally held view that the United Nations would spend large sums of money to create a refugee problem rather than solve it."
Proponents of UNRWA, however, such as UN spokesman St├ęphane Dujarric, are right to say that, in a certain way "UNRWA is a stabilizing presence on the ground". If tomorrow the more than 50,000 UNRWA employees, 95% of whom are Palestinians, were left without work; and rations, aids, and access to education for dependents were removed, the already explosive situation in the "camps" could become equally unfortunate.

Another more serious problem remains: UNRWA is not just a humanitarian agency. Its political stance is evident at all levels of the organization. A report from the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, says that the 2016-2017 curriculum for elementary schools in PA, partly funded by UNRWA, "teaches students to be martyrs, to demonize and deny the existence of Israel, and to focus on a 'return' to an exclusively Palestinian country."

Ann Dismorr (right), the Director of UNRWA in Lebanon, poses with a map that erases the State of Israel and presents all of it as "Palestine." (Image source: Palestinian Authority TV via Palestinian Media Watch)

On February 12, 2017, the non-governmental organization "UN Watch" sent a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres, denouncing the actions of about 40 UNRWA officials. The officials' Facebook pages, the report shows, make apologies for Nazism, venerate Hitler, call for the extermination of Jews, celebrate the murder and kidnapping of Israelis, publish Hamas propaganda to the glory of "martyrs" and, more generally, deny the right to Israel's existence, whatever its boundaries. With his back put to the wall by these overwhelming revelations, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness hastened to call for an investigation -- against UN Watch!

Even the most moderate among UNRWA loyalists continue to promote the myth of a "right of return" -- a wish that can never be realized because it means flooding the tiny country of Israel (roughly the size of Vancouver Island) with millions of "Palestinian refugees" in order demographically to outnumber the Jews there and thus create the end of Israeli democracy -- and preventing any attempt at "integration".

During the wars between Israel and the terrorist organizations that rule Gaza, rockets were commonly fired from UNRWA schools or from near its hospitals.

Access to several terror tunnels was dug under UNRWA's infrastructure; ammunition was found in its college. Of course, when questioned on these points, UNRWA officials hastened to condemn the intolerable use of their neutrality for the purposes of war! But that did not stop UNRWA from returning the rockets and other mortars found in its infrastructure to Hamas.

Several video reports by the Center for Near East Policy to students at UNRWA schools are even more disturbing. No child, questioned on this point, recognizes the right to the existence of Israel. All girls and boys dream of one day becoming martyrs to the Palestinian cause, and some unashamedly say that their greatest wish is to kill Jews. When asked about the source of their motivation, most said that their teachers taught them that their country was "stolen by the Jews.

So, how to deal with such a situation?

The first logical solution would be to merge UNRWA with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), thus ending the "Palestinian exception," while distributing UN budgets more equitably among the true refugees suffering extreme misery.

Unfortunately, UNRWA is dependent on the UN General Assembly, where the anti-Israeli automatic majority, led by the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, has so far been preventing any change in its current status.

The gradual withdrawal of funds allocated by the US seems a positive measure, provided that the resulting shortage leads UNRWA to reform its structure and mode of operation. The danger is that rogue countries will probably try to take over.

The next step would be for the UN to be transparent; to have outside monitors from the US make sure that no member of any terrorist organization is a part of its staff; to trade its highly questionable school curriculum for an education toward peace; to denounce the paramilitary training that sometimes takes place in the courtyards of its schools and, as a token of good faith, to begin by canceling the world tour of its "young ambassador", Muhammad Assaf, who, during his talks, only encourages violence.

It is hard not to include a quote from UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness: "UNRWA will continue to work tirelessly to ensure the full implementation of our mandate, as defined by the General Assembly. "

In other words, in 30 years, if nothing is done, UNRWA, instead of managing the fate of supposedly between 5 - 6.5 million Palestinians as it does now, will be managing the fate of 40 million.

Censoring talk of Polish complicity in the Holocaust will only make the hatred to simmer and deepen.

From JPost, 29 January 2018, by Lahav Harkov:

Stutthof concentration camp, Poland
Stutthof concentration camp, Poland. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA / PHILIPP P EGLI)

...the newly-approved Polish bill  ...didn’t just ban the phrase “Polish death camps” like the headlines say. It outlaws any mention of Polish complicity in the Nazi atrocities, and the offense carries a prison sentence of three years.

Here are some facts about Poland and the Holocaust:

  • Half of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust, about 3 million, were Polish. 
  • Over 90% of Poland’s Jewish population was slaughtered in the Holocaust. You don’t get to numbers like that without cooperation. 
  • In 1941, Poles in the Jedwabne started a pogrom, and locked Jews in a wooden barn that they set on fire. 
  • After the war ended, another pogrom against Jewish refugees took place in Kielce, which is only one of about a dozen cases of postwar violence against Polish Jews sparked by blood libels. 
  • Stories abound about Jews who tried to return to their homes in Poland only to be threatened or murdered by their former neighbors – including some people who I know personally.

At the same time, yes, over 6,000 Poles have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, and hundreds were killed by the Nazis for helping Jews. Yes, the Polish government in exile helped expose Nazi concentration camps to the world. And yes, 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians were killed by the Nazis and others in combat ...

As a journalist, and as a freedom-loving individual, I abhor censorship. I can just barely stomach it for national security reasons. But this has no security value. This is censoring history to protect Poland’s national ego and avoid confronting the demons of its past. This is borderline Holocaust denial, and it goes along with a trend occurring in neighboring countries, like Hungary and Ukraine.

...Poland needs to face facts. Their country was deeply antisemitic, and it remains so. An Anti-Defamation League poll from 2014 shows 45% of Poles hold antisemitic views.

The way to let go of hate is for Poles who want better for their country to admit it’s there, talk about it, and try to release the demons. Censoring talk of Polish people’s complicity in the Holocaust will only make the hatred that allowed these atrocities to take place simmer and deepen.

Washington reexamining aid to Palestinians

From Times of Israel, 24 January 2018:

... some US officials -- particularly UN envoy Nikki Haley -- are not content with UNRWA cuts, want PA to pay for its boycott of administration

US President Donald Trump speaks with US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, before a meeting at the UN General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City, on September 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
US President Donald Trump speaks with US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, before a meeting at the UN General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City, on September 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)


The US leadership is looking beyond its recent cuts to the the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, with the State Department reexamining the entirety of its aid budget to the Palestinian Authority, Hadashot news reported Wednesday.
According to the TV station, which indicated the report was based on US sources, the $100 million cut to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) earlier this month may well only be the start, as the crisis between Washington and Ramallah deepens. 
A top proponent of further cuts is said to be US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who reportedly wants the Palestinian leadership to pay for its attitude towards the US government and President Donald Trump. Other officials are said to oppose further cuts.
...Earlier this month, Trump asked why Washington should make “any of these massive future payments,” when the Palestinians were “no longer willing to talk peace.”
In a tweet, the president dismissed Palestinian fury over his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying he had planned for Israel “to pay” in future negotiations for his declaration. But Palestinian intransigence was now preventing any progress on peace talks, he said
Washington had been paying the Palestinian Authority hundreds of millions of dollars a year “for nothing,” he wrote, complaining that the US received “no appreciation or respect” in return.
“They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel,” he said. “We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.”
“But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace,” he went on, “why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Hadashot news said it was told that the consideration of further cuts was not intended as a sanction against the Palestinians. However, it was also told that if the Palestinians end their boycott of the Trump administration, budget cuts would be removed from the agenda.
The TV station noted that Israeli leadership is not keen on deep cuts to Palestinian funding, with officials afraid that backing the Palestinians into a financial corner could lead to escalation in the territories.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference prior to attending a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)
The US State Department last week put on hold two planned payments of more than $100 million to UNRWA.
The State Department denied that the freeze was to punish the Palestinian Authority, which has cut ties with Trump’s administration, following his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A spokeswoman said it was linked to necessary “reform” of UNRWA.
Pierre Krahenbuhl, the agency’s commissioner general, said it had not been informed by the United States of any new reform demands, and had been simply “caught up” in a political dispute.
The US gave around $700 million in support to the Palestinians last year, of which about half went to UNRWA, which has a non-political mandate to provide schooling, health care, and other services to more than three million Palestinians across the Middle East.
While welcomed in Israel, Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital angered the Palestinians, who seek East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said that the US under Trump can no longer be a mediator in peace talks with Israel, even though Trump stressed the recognition was not a statement of position on the city’s final boundaries.
In late December, the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the US decision in a non-binding resolution, after the US vetoed a similar Security Council measure.
Mahmoud al-Aloul, member of the Central Committee of Fatah. January 6, 2010. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90/File)
Meanwhile, the deputy chief of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party said this week that Palestinian leadership believes the US has never given anything of “substance” to the Palestinians.
“Recently, we were forced to review all of our relations with the American administrations in recent years, and not just the Trump administration,” Mahmoud al-Aloul told the London-based Pan-Arab daily Al Quds Al Arabi. “We assessed that nothing good will come from them for the Palestinian people and the nation, and this is completely clear.
“With all their might, they support [the Palestinians’] enemy that is occupying their lands,” he said.
Dov Lieber and AFP contributed to this report.

Friday, February 02, 2018

A new US approach

From the National Review, 23 January 2018, by Yoram Hazony:



The administration’s foreign policy is a welcome break from the preexisting Washington consensus. 

President Donald Trump has promised that in the Middle East under his presidency, “there are many things that can happen now that would never have happened before.”

Two speeches of the last ten days offer dramatic confirmation of the emerging reconfiguration of America’s relationship with Israel and the Middle East under his leadership.

In a two-hour speech before the Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) last week, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, denounced the British, Dutch, French, and Americans for having conspired, ever since the 1650s, to create a Jewish colonial outpost that would “erase the Palestinians from Palestine.”

As Abbas tells it, all this reached a climax on the eve of World War I, when the West realized that it was on the verge of collapse and that the Islamic world was “poised to inherit European civilization.” To put an end to this threat, the Western nations went about carving up the Muslim world so that it would be forever “divided, backward, and engulfed in infighting.” As for the United States, it has been “playing games” of this sort ever since then, importing, for example, the disastrous Arab Spring into Middle East. Abbas summed up by demanding an apology and reparations from Britain for the Balfour Declaration and denying that the United States can serve as a mediator in the Mideast.

Finally, he went to the trouble of cursing both President Trump and the U.S. Congress: Yehrab beitak (“May your house be razed”), he said.

I have been following the speeches of the PLO and its supporters in the Arab world for 30 years. Nothing here is new. These are the same things that Yasser Arafat, Abbas, and the mainline PLO  leadership have always believed. It is a worldview that reflects an abiding hatred for the West, blaming Christians and Jews not only for the founding of Israel but for every calamity that has befallen the Muslim and Arab world for centuries.

What should be one’s policy toward an organization committed to such an ideology? One option is to sympathize with the shame and outrage to which the PLO gives voice, and to try to mitigate it with grants of territory, authority, prestige, and large-scale ongoing funding. American administrations have pursued this option, seeking to make a peace partner out of the PLO, since President Ronald Reagan announced a dialogue with it in December 1988.

Israel, too, has pursued this option, since 1993. x   But in the ensuing 30 years of talk, the only major agreements signed have been those the PLO leadership could find a way to fit into its narrative: Agreements such as the 1993 Oslo Accords, which could be portrayed as inflicting a bitter defeat on Israel and the West — and as a step on the road to ultimate triumph.

President Trump, Vice President Pence, and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley are pioneering an alternative policy, which can be summed up in Haley’s words:
“We’re not going to pay to be abused.” 
If players like the PLO, North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran (hopefully, Turkey gets added to this list soon) want to cultivate a civilizational hatred of America, double-talking while they give aid to global terrorism and conjure diplomatic scandals at the U.N. — well, then they don’t get to be allies. They don’t get funded. They don’t get grants of land, authority, and prestige. Those things will be reserved for actual allies. 

In a speech before the PLO last week, Mahmoud Abbas expressed the familiar worldview marked by hatred for the West, blaming Christians and Jews for every calamity that has befallen the Muslim and Arab world for centuries. What this looks like was already on display when Trump became the first serving U.S. president to visit the kotel (the Western Wall) in Jerusalem in May, shredding the longstanding diplomatic taboo against making it look as though the holiest site in Judaism is in fact part of the State of Israel.

Since then, Trump and Haley have taken on UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which regularly disseminate the PLO’s view of history and current affairs.

The Trump administration has cut in half America’s massive financial support of UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), an organization whose purpose is to maintain generations of unabsorbed descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees, inculcating them in Abbas-style grievances against Israel and the West.

Mike Pence’s address on Monday to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, continued this trajectory. But he also responded to Abbas’s history lesson with some tasteful but potent narrative-weaving of his own. In addition to the traditional script pointing to the shared interests of the United States and Israel as democracies, Pence emphasized that it was significant to him as an American that “our founders turned to the Hebrew Bible for direction” in establishing their country and that Israel’s story “inspired my forebears to create . . . a new birth of freedom.” He returned repeatedly to the way in which the story of the Jewish people holding fast to God’s promise to return them to their land “shows the power of faith.” Pence even said the traditional Jewish shehehianu blessing (in Hebrew!), thanking God for bringing us to see this day in which the Jewish people have been restored to their land.

On policy, Pence said that Trump “righted a 70-year wrong” in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and that the U.S. embassy would be in the city “by the end of next year.” He promised Israel that “the United states will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

As for the PLO, Pence gave eloquent and persuasive voice to his country’s desire for peace. But his bottom line also marked a significant shift from previous American administrations: The U.S., Pence said, would support a PLO state “if both sides agree.” In other words,  whether there will be such a state is Israel’s call to make. Which puts American policy light years away from the heyday of George W. Bush’s “road map,” and his breathy “vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace.”

For a change, there was no daylight between the views Pence outlined in the Knesset and those of his Israeli hosts. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem would go down in Jewish history together with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948. Isaac Herzog (Labor), the leader of the opposition,  pointed out that it is “the love of the Bible that connects us to one another.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) spoke of the Jewish state “fulfilling the words of the prophets” and of “the United States, more than any other country in the world, as Israel’s faithful partner” in this effort.

As for the curses that Abbas called down on President Trump’s house, the Israelis responded by blessing him: Netanyahu told Pence it is “our deepest hope that President Trump and you will succeed in strengthening the United States, . . . so that America will continue to be the greatest power in the world for generations to come.”

And Edelstein said that from Israel he would only hear the blessing Bneh Beitcha (“May your house be built up”). 

There is no shortage of commentators saying that this embrace of Israel is only going to harm the prospects for peace in the Middle East. That view reflects the consensus in Washington before President Trump got there.

For long decades, Washington has crafted policies based on the tacit assumption that America needs the PLO if it is to bring peace to the Middle East. In its effort to “balance” the demands of this extremist organization against Israel’s concerns, American policy inflated the PLO’s importance, and it learned to tolerate and even embrace an organization whose views have always been profoundly anti-Western, not to mention anti-Semitic. 

Meanwhile, the Biblical roots of America’s alliance with Israel have been consistently downplayed for fear that mentioning them would upset Arab sensibilities. Even so elementary a move as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or cutting funding to chronically anti-Western and anti-Semitic organizations, became unthinkable. 

These policies did not bring peace to the Middle East. But they severed the ties between American diplomacy in the region and common sense — to the point that more than a few U.S. officials ended up believing that not only the PLO, but even Iran, whose parliament regularly curses the United States, could be made a peace partner if it were paid handsomely enough. 

The Trump administration, on the other hand, appears to have good grasp of a principle that is under-rated but nonetheless quite useful in making sound policy: In the relations between nations, it matters who blesses you and who curses you.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Note Who Curses America, and Who Blesses It

From the National Review, 23 January 2018, by Yoram Hazony:


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, September 1, 2010. (Jason Reed /Reuters) 


The administration’s foreign policy is a welcome break from the preexisting Washington consensus. 

President Donald Trump has promised that in the Middle East under his presidency, “there are many things that can happen now that would never have happened before.” Two speeches of the last ten days offer dramatic confirmation of the emerging reconfiguration of America’s relationship with Israel and the Middle East under his leadership.

In a two-hour speech before the Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) last week, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, denounced the British, Dutch, French, and Americans for having conspired, ever since the 1650s, to create a Jewish colonial outpost that would “erase the Palestinians from Palestine.”

As Abbas tells it, all this reached a climax on the eve of World War I, when the West realized that it was on the verge of collapse and that the Islamic world was “poised to inherit European civilization.” To put an end to this threat, the Western nations went about carving up the Muslim world so that it would be forever “divided, backward, and engulfed in infighting.”

As for the United States, it has been “playing games” of this sort ever since then, importing, for example, the disastrous Arab Spring into Middle East. Abbas summed up by demanding an apology and reparations from Britain for the Balfour Declaration and denying that the United States can serve as a mediator in the Mideast.

Finally, he went to the trouble of cursing both President Trump and the U.S. Congress: Yehrab beitak (“May your house be razed”), he said.

I have been following the speeches of the PLO and its supporters in the Arab world for 30 years. Nothing here is new. These are the same things that Yasser Arafat, Abbas, and the mainline PLO  leadership have always believed. It is a worldview that reflects an abiding hatred for the West, blaming Christians and Jews not only for the founding of Israel but for every calamity that has befallen the Muslim and Arab world for centuries.

What should be one’s policy toward an organization committed to such an ideology? One option is to sympathize with the shame and outrage to which the PLO gives voice, and to try to mitigate it with grants of territory, authority, prestige, and large-scale ongoing funding. American administrations have pursued this option, seeking to make a peace partner out of the PLO, since President Ronald Reagan announced a dialogue with it in December 1988.

Israel, too, has pursued this option, since 1993. President Trump's 8 Biggest Accomplishments   But in the ensuing 30 years of talk, the only major agreements signed have been those the PLO leadership could find a way to fit into its narrative: Agreements such as the 1993 Oslo Accords, which could be portrayed as inflicting a bitter defeat on Israel and the West — and as a step on the road to ultimate triumph.

President Trump, Vice President Pence, and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley are pioneering an alternative policy, which can be summed up in Haley’s words: “We’re not going to pay to be abused.” If players like the PLO, North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran (hopefully, Turkey gets added to this list soon) want to cultivate a civilizational hatred of America, double-talking while they give aid to global terrorism and conjure diplomatic scandals at the U.N. — well, then they don’t get to be allies. They don’t get funded. They don’t get grants of land, authority, and prestige. Those things will be reserved for actual allies.

In a speech before the PLO last week, Mahmoud Abbas expressed the familiar worldview marked by hatred for the West, blaming Christians and Jews for every calamity that has befallen the Muslim and Arab world for centuries. What this looks like was already on display when Trump became the first serving U.S. president to visit the kotel (the Western Wall) in Jerusalem in May, shredding the longstanding diplomatic taboo against making it look as though the holiest site in Judaism is in fact part of the State of Israel.

Since then, Trump and Haley have taken on UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which regularly disseminate the PLO’s view of history and current affairs. The Trump administration has cut in half America’s massive financial support of UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), an organization whose purpose is to maintain generations of unabsorbed descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees, inculcating them in Abbas-style grievances against Israel and the West.

Mike Pence’s address on Monday to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, continued this trajectory. But he also responded to Abbas’s history lesson with some tasteful but potent narrative-weaving of his own. In addition to the traditional script pointing to the shared interests of the United States and Israel as democracies, Pence emphasized that it was significant to him as an American that “our founders turned to the Hebrew Bible for direction” in establishing their country and that Israel’s story “inspired my forebears to create . . . a new birth of freedom.”

He returned repeatedly to the way in which the story of the Jewish people holding fast to God’s promise to return them to their land “shows the power of faith.” Pence even said the traditional Jewish shehehianu blessing (in Hebrew!), thanking God for bringing us to see this day in which the Jewish people have been restored to their land.

On policy, Pence said that Trump “righted a 70-year wrong” in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and that the U.S. embassy would be in the city “by the end of next year.” He promised Israel that “the United states will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

As for the PLO, Pence gave eloquent and persuasive voice to his country’s desire for peace. But his bottom line also marked a significant shift from previous American administrations: The U.S., Pence said, would support a PLO state “if both sides agree.” In other words,  whether there will be such a state is Israel’s call to make. Which puts American policy light years away from the heyday of George W. Bush’s “road map,” and his breathy “vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace.”

For a change, there was no daylight between the views Pence outlined in the Knesset and those of his Israeli hosts. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem would go down in Jewish history together with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948.

Isaac Herzog (Labor), the leader of the opposition,  pointed out that it is “the love of the Bible that connects us to one another.” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) spoke of the Jewish state “fulfilling the words of the prophets” and of “the United States, more than any other country in the world, as Israel’s faithful partner” in this effort.

As for the curses that Abbas called down on President Trump’s house, the Israelis responded by blessing him: Netanyahu told Pence it is “our deepest hope that President Trump and you will succeed in strengthening the United States, . . . so that America will continue to be the greatest power in the world for generations to come.” And Edelstein said that from Israel he would only hear the blessing Bneh Beitcha (“May your house be built up”).

There is no shortage of commentators saying that this embrace of Israel is only going to harm the prospects for peace in the Middle East. That view reflects the consensus in Washington before President Trump got there.

For long decades, Washington has crafted policies based on the tacit assumption that America needs the PLO if it is to bring peace to the Middle East. In its effort to “balance” the demands of this extremist organization against Israel’s concerns, American policy inflated the PLO’s importance, and it learned to tolerate and even embrace an organization whose views have always been profoundly anti-Western, not to mention anti-Semitic. 

Meanwhile, the Biblical roots of America’s alliance with Israel have been consistently downplayed for fear that mentioning them would upset Arab sensibilities. Even so elementary a move as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or cutting funding to chronically anti-Western and anti-Semitic organizations, became unthinkable. 

These policies did not bring peace to the Middle East. But they severed the ties between American diplomacy in the region and common sense — to the point that more than a few U.S. officials ended up believing that not only the PLO, but even Iran, whose parliament regularly curses the United States, could be made a peace partner if it were paid handsomely enough. 

The Trump administration, on the other hand, appears to have good grasp of a principle that is under-rated but nonetheless quite useful in making sound policy: In the relations between nations, it matters who blesses you and who curses you.