Review Category : Middle East

The Palestinian Dane-geld

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was the terror group that introduced the world to airline hijackings. Because of the PLO and other terror groups, the average air traveler must go through long security lines and metal detectors, remove his shoes and belt, and refrain from bringing large bottles of liquid onto the plane, among other items.

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Letter: 45 National Security Experts Urge President Trump to Withdraw From Nuclear Deal with Iran

September 21, 2017

The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC

Dear President Trump:

We are writing to you as national security experts, many who worked in the nuclear weapons, arms control, nonproliferation and intelligence fields, to express our strong opposition to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) and to ask that you withdraw the United States from this dangerous agreement as soon as possible.

We also call on your administration to declare to Congress next month that Iran has not been complying with this agreement and that it is not in the national security interests of the United States.

We strongly supported your statements during the 2016 presidential campaign that the JCPOA was one of the worst international agreements ever negotiated and as president that you would either withdraw from or renegotiate this deal.  Your campaign statements accurately reflected that the JCPOA is a fraud since it allows Iran to continue its nuclear weapons program while the agreement is in effect by permitting it to enrich uranium, operate and develop advanced uranium centrifuges and operate a heavy-water reactor.  Such limited restrictions as the deal actually imposes on Iran’s enrichment program will expire in eight years.  In addition, the JCPOA’s inspection provisions are wholly inadequate.

We also note that a joint July 11, 2017 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from Senators Cruz, Rubio, Cotton and Perdue outlined significant violations of the JCPOA by Iran, the most important of which is Iran’s refusal to permit IAEA inspections of military facilities.

In addition, although the JCPOA did not require Iran to halt its belligerent and destabilizing behavior, President Obama and Secretary Kerry repeatedly claimed it would lead to an improvement.  This has not happened.  To the contrary, after the JCPOA, Iran’s behavior has significantly worsened.  Tehran stepped up its ballistic missile program and missile launches.  There was a 90% increase in Iran’s 2016-2017 military budget.  Iran has increased its support to terrorist groups and sent troops into Syria.  Harassment of shipping in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea also increased, including missiles fired at U.S. and Gulf state ships by the Houthi rebels, an Iranian proxy in Yemen.

Moreover, in light of major advances in North Korea’s nuclear program, we are very concerned that North Korea and Iran are actively sharing nuclear weapons technology and that Iran is providing funding for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  CIA Director Mike Pompeo suggested this possibility during a September 11 Fox News interview.

We are unconvinced by doom-and-gloom predictions of the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA.  The sky did not fall when you withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.  Claims that Iran will step up its nuclear program or engage in more belligerent behavior must be considered against the backdrop of what Iran is allowed to do under the JCPOA and its actual conduct since this “political understanding” was announced.

Some Iran deal advocates argue that the United States should remain in the JCPOA and instead try to amend it to fix its flaws over several years.  A few contend you could decertify the agreement to Congress, but remain in the deal and then try to amend it.  Since Iran has made it clear it will not agree to changes to the JCPOA, we believe these proposals are unrealistic.  Continuing to legitimate the agreement is not conducive to its renegotiation.  The day will never come when the mullahs agree to amend the sweetheart deal they got in the JCPOA.

Ambassador John Bolton has drawn up a plan to implement a far more effective, comprehensive and multilateral approach to address the threat from Iran.  This approach includes strict new sanctions to bar permanently the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran.  He also calls for new sanctions in response to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and efforts to destabilize the Middle East, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Unlike the JCPOA, which was negotiated with no input from America’s allies in the Middle East, Ambassador Bolton outlines a multilateral campaign to forge a new comprehensive approach to the threat from Iran that includes the Gulf States and Israel to assure that their security interests are taken into account.

We agree with Ambassador John Bolton that strong international sanctions, a tough negotiating strategy and a decisive American president who will not engage in appeasement is the best approach to rein in Iran’s belligerent behavior and induce it to joining negotiations on a better agreement.

As national security experts who understand the urgency of addressing the growing threat from Iran, we urge you to implement the Bolton plan, withdraw from the dangerous Iran nuclear deal and not certify Iranian compliance to Congress next month.  It is time to move beyond President Obama’s appeasement of Iran and to begin work on a comprehensive new approach that fully addresses the menace that the Iranian regime increasingly poses to American and international security.

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Is Kirkuk a Melting Pot, or a Pressure Cooker?

Kirkuk, the oil rich province in dispute for nearly a century, may be the upcoming scene of one of Iraq’s longest-brewing post-ISIS conflicts. Located in northern Iraq under the de jure authority of the central government, the province is currently protected by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga forces. Kirkuk may provide a battleground for an upcoming struggle that may be necessary to formalize the divorce between Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, and Erbil, the Kurdish capital. The President of the KRG, Masoud Barzani has shown no sign of parting ways with the city, promising to protect and return it to Kurdistan. Barzani vowed “any force that thinks of taking Kirkuk by force will be faced by the whole of Kurdistan. We will defend it until the last one of us.” Whether through force or dialogue, the Kurds seem determined to push back external meddling.

The city of Kirkuk itself has historically housed a Kurdish majority with a Turkoman minority from the Ottoman Empire, later facing an influx of Arabs, first accompanying the British with the discovery of oil, then with Saddam Hussein’s Arabization campaign. Over time, the lack of Kurdish influence over the city has weakened Kurdish culture, diminishing Kurdish hopes of regaining what they believe is, historically, theirs. It was not until 2014 that this all changed; with the rise of ISIS came the collapse of the Iraqi army. The region witnessed their retreat, first from Mosul and later Kirkuk, leaving a security vacuum waiting to be filled –  the Kurds seized the moment, declaring to protect the city and promising to never again lose hold of Baba Gurgur (the Kurdish name for Kirkuk, meaning Father of Eternal Fire).

There are ethnic, religious, and resource-based struggles inflicting the whole of Iraq – especially the city of Kirkuk. This can only mean one thing: the city is ripe for conflict. As the Kurds gear up for an upcoming independence referendum on September 25th, their military gains have made them vulnerable on multiple fronts. Under the protection of the Peshmerga, Kirkuk’s society and security has improved dramatically; the city has witnessed infrastructural developments including new roads, malls, and hotels, as well as remarkable social harmony where Arabs, Turkmans and Kurds are seen living side-by-side in peace. The Governor of Kirkuk, Dr. Najmadin Karim – a Kurd himself – has managed to create a sort of sanctuary city, distant from the preconceived narratives of a conflicted province riddled with historic grievances. The governor has taken it two steps further, first by raising the Kurdish national flag alongside the Iraqi flag on government buildings – signaling a strong Kurdish authority – and second by announcing that Kirkuk, a disputed territory under the Iraqi Constitution Article 140, will officially take part in the Kurdish independence referendum.

The Kurds are not historically known to have kind neighbors. The call to include Kirkuk in what is already a controversial referendum has received the unwanted attention of Iran, Turkey, Baghdad and their proxies. This is a worrying development for the Kurds – external influence has the ability to unravel the cohesion established by the Kurds inside the city.

Baghdad deems that Kurds have taken advantage of the collapse of the country since 2014, and that these attempts by Governor Dr. Karim will only benefit ISIS. A Sunni Iraqi MP Mohammed Karbouli stated that this issue, “would trigger ethnic fighting and extend the life of the Islamic State” while Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s spokesperson Saad Hadithi called the decision “illegal and unconstitutional.”

Iran, playing a major role in shaping internal Iraqi politics since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011 under the Obama Administration, is also opposed to the move. Iran has threatened to unleash its Shiite proxy, the infamous Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) if necessary. The PMF is legally the responsibility of the central government of Baghdad, but is fully funded by Tehran. Shiite nationalism has threatened to further ignite conflict based on ethnic lines.

Turkey, an economic partner to the KRG and a strong influencer among the city’s Turkman minority, has warned through its Foreign Ministry that “the persistent pursuit of this dangerous movement will not serve the interests of the KRG or Iraq.” The rival Turks staunchly believe Kirkuk is historically Turkish, purging Kurdish claims and recently reaffirmed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli, that “Kirkuk is Turkish. It will not be subjected to assimilationist aims and ethnic cleansing.”

In what was thought to be an upcoming victory among Iraqis and Kurds with the defeat of ISIS near, the reality seems to hint that Iraq will return to its normal pre-ISIS discords established by Saddam and left by former PM Nouri Maliki. But this “normal” has a new face, one that is fashioned by external coercions. Differing historical powers have ruled Kirkuk at one point or another throughout its history, but none are willing to lessen their hold.

Kurds face a challenging dilemma – they must calculate the value of Kirkuk. For Kurds living inside the city, the participation in the independence referendum means two things. First, it is reclaiming a long historical right, in essence correcting a false narrative forced by Arabs and Turks. Second, the push to be a part of an independent Kurdistan acts as a bridge – one that may once again unite them with their fellow countrymen.

The Kurds require support from the US if they are willing to risk the stability achieved in both Kirkuk and the KRG, a backing they do not have. Possible military action against Kirkuk is not in any parties’ interest. Since 2014, Kurds have established a safe haven protecting all minorities, and disrupting the stability would only be perceived as an attack on the city’s citizens and not the Kurdish authority. This would likely only strengthen the position of the Kurds. Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara may have to accept the reality on the ground – that Kurds have proven to be a highly effective fighting forces against ISIS. The Kurds have successfully governed Kirkuk looking beyond ethnic divisions and embraced the diversity, something both Arabs and Turks have failed to do throughout history.

If the dispute over Kirkuk takes a violent path it will inevitably continue to destabilize not only the KRG but Iraq too and will likely spillover to Turkey and Iran, giving birth to another sectarian and ethnic war no side can afford – or wants. A peaceful solution through open dialogue is certainly the right path. If confronted, do Kurds have it in them to continue onto another war, post-ISIS?  The next war may be more difficult, costly, and will no longer be held to a coalition between the PMF, Iraqi Army, and the Peshmerga. Their fighting forces will likely be far more isolated. Nonetheless, it carries with it the very real possibility of defining a future Kurdish state.

Originally published at Raddington Report.

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The Thorn in Assad’s Side

Syria’s six-year long civil war is slowly diminishing, with Bashar al Assad as the unbreakable victor. Multiple allies have backed the Arab nationalist Ba’athist government, including Iran, Russia and Hezbollah who shifted the direction of the brutal war in Assad’s favor.

Despite Assad’s determination to clinch onto power regardless of the Syrian people’s aspirations for a change of government, one group, the Kurds, refused to continue to be ruled by the tyrant. Through hard fought battles and loss of many lives, the Kurds – Syria’s largest ethnic minority – managed to establish a secure region in the north much different from the rest of the country in what they call Rojava (West Kurdistan).

At the start of the war, the Kurds of Rojava had little interest in battling the Assad regime or siding with the opposition forces. But this changed when Islamic State (IS) attempted to pivot north towards a small Kurdish town of Kobani, bordering Turkey. Kobani was surrounded; on one side was IS, on the other the Turkish military, watching idly in the hope that Kurdish town would plummet. The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even went as far as saying “Kobani is about to fall.” But Kobani never fell, instead becoming a symbol of resilience which has inspired the success of the Kurds to date.

Today, under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) a coalition of majority Kurdish but also Arab, Turkmen, Assyrian and Armenian fighters have pushed back the Islamic State to near nothing. The SDF controls large of swaths territory west of the Euphrates river, weakening IS strongholds. The Syrian army has chosen its battles, combatting opposition forces to regain strategic cities rather than concerning themselves with the Kurds in the North. But this has backfired. The Kurdish forces are now strong, well organized and defiant, helped by the backing of US and Russian forces. To make matters worse for Assad, they now completely govern themselves. And so he is faced with a tough choice: intervene in Rojava and reclaim the land through the use of force, or accept that Syria is no longer whole.

It is true that the Kurds in Syria have established their own safe-haven, and are now preparing to hold local council and regional assembly elections. The Kurds have however attempted to quell fears of total separation, insisting that they are not seeking independence. The regime hopes this is true: Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad stated that “the elections will be a joke. Syria will never allow any part of its territory to be separated” and Assad described the self-governance in the region as “temporary”. Separation would also be a blow for Turkey; its president Recep Tayyip Erdogan fears such move will push Kurds in his own country to demand autonomy and has been accused of aligning with the Islamic state to prevent further Kurdish advances. A former ISIS communications technician stated “ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all [from Turkey], because there was full cooperation with the Turks and they reassured us that nothing will happen…the Kurds were common enemy for both ISIS and Turkey.”

Yet Syria’s main ally in the war, Russia, has been open to granting the Kurds autonomy. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met with opposition parties in Moscow earlier this year to discuss a draft Syrian constitution which pushed for “allowing for autonomy of Kurdish regions.”

Ultimately, the Assad regime must decide how it will prevent the Kurds from moving forward with their ambitions. Although agreeing upon a solution with Russia and the US as mediators is the ideal condition, it is not likely that Kurds will give up territories they have fought for – or that residents within such regions would want to live under Assad’s government ever again. But if Assad does decide to forcefully intervene, the least likely scenario, it may end his regime once and for all. His government does not have the manpower, resources or time to fight on another front after years of war. His allies Russia will not fight the Kurds, and Iran will shy away from advancing north due to the presence of US forces.

The ball is once again in Assad’s court – either make a mistake similar to 2011 when he declined to implement reform or step down during the Arab Spring protests, or commit to a peaceful solution and let the Kurds be. A model comparable to the Iraqi one could be implemented, where it granted the Kurds autonomy under the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) with its own border, military, parliament and laws. But this may not be the most convincing resolution as the KRG is preparing to divorce Iraq with its independence referendum on September 25, a move Baghdad calls “illegal.”

Syrians should not suffer any longer due to personal ambitions of the regime or power struggles of its allies. The final phase of the civil war is near, the Islamic State is nearly defeated and all actors involved are scrambling to gain last minute spoils, which is not limited to territory but natural gas and oil fields, access to dams along the Euphrates River, access to the Mediterranean Sea and Iran is seeking its long ambitions of completing the Shiite crescent through a land bridge from Iraq, Syria into Lebanon threatening Israel.

Assad’s Kurdish question could have been answered long ago, but the Kurds in Syria have reaped what they have sown: the Syrian regime too weak to call the shots and can no longer determine the future of the entirety of the country.

Originally published at Raddington Report.

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Lessons from Pyongyang

Last weekend, the world experienced a petrifying “wake up call” when Pyongyang test launched a hydrogen bomb. According to Yukiya Amano, director of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), Sunday’s test represents “a new dimension to the threat.” Added Amano, “I think the North Korean threat is a global one now.

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Foreign Policy Realists Shouldn’t Be Hostile to Israel

“Obama, unlike liberal interventionists, is an admirer of the foreign-policy realism of President George H. W. Bush and, in particular, of Bush’s national-security adviser, Brent Scowcroft (“I love that guy,” Obama once told me).”

— The Obama Doctrine, The Atlantic, April 2016

“Buying the long-standing realist notion that Israeli-Palestinian conflict drives much regional turmoil, Obama pressured Israel for a settlement freeze as a necessary concession for peace and downplayed Palestinian terror, anti-Israel incitement and the terror group Hamas’ role in Palestinian government as impediments to it.”

— A Dangerous Middle East Policy, US News & World Report, May 6, 2015

The recently departed administration of Barack Obama was characterized by the president’s open admiration of the “realism” of the foreign policy of the Presidency of George H. W. Bush, and Obama’s continuous and strong antagonism towards the State of Israel. The two ideas often go together, because the conventional wisdom has long asserted that an American leader who practices the doctrine of “realism” should attempt to reverse the (generally) strong U.S. friendship and support for Israel. This is because such “realists” have long believed that American backing for Israel is a net negative for the U.S., because it antagonizes the Arab and/or Muslim World, and other nations.

As a correlation, these realists frequently argue that if the U.S. were to reverse that support — or appear more “even-handed” — the U.S. would automatically garner more popularity with the world.

But is this conventional wisdom correct? Would a true realist automatically attempt to distance the U.S. from Israel? And would such a change be a successful strategy for the U.S.?


Realism is defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Realists consider the principal actors in the international arena to be states, which are concerned with their own security, act in pursuit of their own national interests, and struggle for power… The classical realists do not reject the possibility of moral judgment in international politics. Rather, they are critical of moralism — abstract moral discourse that does not take into account political realities.

Per this definition, a “classical realist” would be focused on the nation’s development of policies that most effectively maximize its “national interest(s),” which could include “moral judgment(s).” Note that, contrary to conventional wisdom, morality does play a role in classical realism.

However, for those who continue to insist otherwise, those that seek to divorce moral judgments from foreign policy making may be referred to as “moral-free realists.”

National Interests (Excluding Moral Judgments)

The following are some U.S. national interests frequently cited by public officials and national security experts, especially when discussing Israel. Obviously, some of these interests are overlapping. 1) The U.S. has an interest in assuring its own physical security and its citizenry from foreign attack. [1] 2) The U.S. has an interest in protecting its own economic well-being. This entails keeping the oil and natural gas lanes in the Middle East flowing to the U.S. and the world. It also requires the U.S. to maintain its own national economic well-being by acting in a fiscally prudent manner. 3) The U.S. has an interest in bolstering the interests and security of its allies — i.e., positive reinforcement — and alternatively, in undermining or punishing its opponents — i.e., positive punishment — so as to incentivize pro-U.S. policies. 4) The U.S. has an interest in balancing power in every region, so as to deter future wars and help stabilize the world. 5) The U.S. has an interest in maximizing its popularity with other nations.

In reference to the first national interest, Israel has long been a strong ally of the U.S. Israel backs the U.S. around 90 percent of the time at the U.N. It is a bitter enemy of, and has fought against, many of the same terrorists and rogue states that the U.S. has found itself in conflict with, including Iran, Iraq, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Hamas, ISIS, etc. In 1970, at the behest of President Nixon, Israel mobilized its troops to intimidate Syrian troops invading Jordan, prompting the Syrians to retreat. In 1981, Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor, which allowed the U.S. to avoid a nuclear confrontation with Iraq in 1991, and later earned it the thanks of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. In 1991, at the behest of the U.S., Israel did not respond to Iraqi Scud Missile attacks so as not to endanger the international coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2007, it destroyed a nuclear reactor in Syria, which may have prevented a nuclear incident from occurring during the Syrian civil war.

Israel provides crucial intelligence to the U.S. In the early 90’s, Gen. George J. Keegan Jr., former head of U.S. Air Force intelligence, statedthat America’s military defense capability “owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any single source of intelligence,” the worth of which input exceeds “five CIAs.” He stated that between 1974 and 1990, Israel received $18.3 billion in U.S. military grants, while providing the U.S. with $50-$80 billion in intelligence, research and development savings, and Soviet weapons systems captured and transferred to the U.S. Today, Israel is still providing unmatched national security intelligence — for example, regarding Syria and chemical weapons, and also in the U.S. campaign against ISIS. For example, Israeli intelligence information may have shown the truth about Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

As for the second national interest, there is no question that Israel has provided great economic benefits to the U.S. The Washington Institute has reported that “Israel has facilitated U.S. efforts to deal with emerging soft security challenges related to economic competitiveness, the information technology revolution, resource sustainability, and public health.” These include the development of cyber systems, robotics, rocket/missile defenses, battlefield ISR, advanced munitions, passive and active defenses for armored vehicles, and mini-satellites, IT, water conservation and management, high-tech agriculture, medical R&D, cleantech/renewable energy, and societal resilience, all of which have been shared with the U.S.

Contrary to popular belief, the (now) $3.8 billion in annual foreign aid the U.S. has given to Israel has been a military and an economic boost for the U.S. as well. It has yielded one of the highest rates of return on U.S. investments overseas. U.S. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce has himself said: “For those who ask about our foreign aid support to Israel, you should ask them, where do you think these ideas come from and where are they trained on the battlefield, and how much would it cost to replace Israel if it was not in the Middle East as the bulwark against what is developing as a result of the chaos throughout the region.” Israel now spends 100 percent of its military aid in buying U.S. goods, making the aid an indirect American subsidy to U.S. arms manufacturers, and creating at least 70,000 jobs in America.

In many ways, the assistance Israel provides to the U.S. military industry is unique. Israel’s air force developed a method of identifying, repairing and preempting cracks in old combat planes, such as the F-16 that it shared with the U.S., which reduces the time planes are grounded from six months to two weeks. Likewise, Israel has bought explosive-neutralizing robots from a Northrup Grumman, Tennessee plant, both putting the seal of Israeli approval on these robots and thereby boosting foreign sales, and providing, through a weekly telephone conference call, constant improvements to these products.

The flip side to this — the economic danger to the U.S. for supporting Israel — is mostly non-existent, regardless of the “Arab lobby.” Except for the 1970’s, the Arab/Muslim world has proven to be largely uninterested in utilizing their energy tool against Israel. Perhaps it is because the oil producing Gulf States recognize that Israel has actually been helpful to them in the past and do not really consider Israel to be a danger to their own existence? Or, it could just be that they recognize that the U.S. has less of a need for Arab and/or Muslim energy resources, because it has developed its ownalternate sources of oil and natural gas. In 2012, Forbes magazine wrote: “within eight short years, the U.S. will surpass Saudi Arabia in terms of oil production, the International Energy Agency said.” That is now three years away.

The U.S. also may benefit from Israel’s development of its own energy sources. Israel has been “transformed with the 2010 discovery of a natural gas field off its Mediterranean coast. Dubbed the Leviathan gas field, it is the largest exploratory find in the world in the past decade and, based on increased estimates released a week ago, contains nearly 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.” There is also the Israeli natural gasfield’s of Tamar and Dalit, which began producing in 2013, and are expected to produce 3 million tons of natural gas by 2017. These fields also have oil reserves.

Then, there are the critics of U.S. foreign aid to Israel (and other nations). During a time of huge debts and deficits, they often claim it is fiscally irresponsible to provide the $3.8 billion annual military aid. These critics may also point to the overall total of more than $115 billion given by the U.S. to Israel, since 1949.

Of course, eliminating Israeli aid just saves the U.S. $3.8 billion a year in military assistance. While $3.8 billion is a lot to an individual, it is almost nothing to the federal government. The U.S. government is almost $20 trillion in debt, and the U.S. deficit in 2016 was almost $552 billion.

In addition, it is a rather misleading to make the argument that the yearly $3.8 billion U.S. military foreign aid to Israel is somehow uniquely expensive to the U.S. The official foreign aid budget misses quite a bit of actual U.S. foreign aid. The U.S. State Department’s foreign aid budget does not take into account the foreign assistance money spent by the Defense Department, the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID), and over a dozen more U.S. agencies. In 2015, the State Department’s total planned foreign aid budget was $32.6 billion, while the Defense Department’s total foreign aid budget was officially listed as $10 billion, USAID adding another $33.7 billion, and Treasury adding another $2.4 billion. Then there are the U.S. troop deployments, which are also not officially foreign aid. The U.S. stations 150,500 troops in 70 allied nations all over the world, such as in Germany, Korea, and Japan, which costs the American taxpayer an annual $85-100 billion. This is really foreign aid, and, unlike the aid to Israel, this assistance also puts the U.S. military in harm’s way. [2] Once these costs are added to the office State Department foreign aid budget, the largest aid recipients are Japan, where 48,828 U.S. military personnel are stationed, costing over $27 billion, and Germany, with 37,704 U.S. troops on its soil, costing over $21 billion.

The third national interest requires that the U.S. provide positive reinforcement for allies, and positive punishment for enemies. For the U.S. to distance itself from Israel (as President Obama did) would seemingly indicate to most objective observers that the U.S. does not necessarily reward its allies for their good behavior. This thereby incentivizes anti-U.S. policies.

Certainly, the Palestinian Arabs are not U.S. allies. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the more extreme Muslim fundamentalist Hamas terror group in Gaza continue to incite their people against the U.S. and against Christians (the vast majority of the U.S. population) in general. They payterrorists salaries for actions that have killed and harmed American citizens. The Palestinian leadership has routinely supported the enemies of the U.S. – Nazi Germany, the U.S.S.R.Iran (Hamas), Iraq (during the invasion of Kuwait), and others. They have even praised (and here) Osama Bin Laden, and condemned his killing by the U.S. They have a history of destabilizing the Middle East, and other nations that are our allies; including Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon. In polls, the Palestinian people show high levels of hatred or dislike towards the U.S. and Americans. On September 11, 2001, some Palestinians celebrated in the streets at the fall of the Twin Towers.

During the past eight years, under President Obama, the U.S. worked hard to curry Palestinian favor. The U.S. boosted its annual bilateral financial aid to the PA dramatically. The Obama administration also significantly increased the U.S. aid to the UN agency UNRWA, whose sole job is to administer welfare to the Palestinian refugees. Obama worked hard to implement policies to establish daylight with Israel and show unprecedented support for the Palestinians, among others by stridently criticizing Israeli settlements and pre-emptively endorsing the Palestinian claim to statehood for the PA (which is supposed to be decided under Oslo by bilateral Palestinian-Israeli talks).

Yet, during all that time, the U.S. received few benefits from this appeasement. The PA viewed “the Obama administration’s quenchless demand for Israeli concessions,” as inadequate and not worthy of real gratitude or reward. Unlike during the Bush or Clinton administrations, the PA refused to engage in bilateral talks with the Israelis. Palestinian — and other Arab peoples — support for Americans “reached an all-time nadir.” The PA implemented a coalition government with Hamas, an anti-American terror group. The PA also continued to pay over $130 million a year, almost 10 percent of its budget, for terrorists and their families in reward for their terror attacks, which have led to the murder of over a hundred Americans, and the injury of many more.

The fourth of these interests cited is essentially based on the balance of power doctrine to minimize conflict. Considering the Arab world’s huge numerical and monetary advantage over Israel, the U.S. is more likely to balance the sides by aiding Israel. Further, the idea that the U.S. should favor the anti-Israel Arab side, including the Palestinian Arab side, to balance the parties and thus dis-incentivize either party from instigating a war seems counterintuitive. If the U.S. wants to maximize peace for all parties in the region, empowering the more warlike, sometimes genocidal, groups such as the Islamist-led Saudi Kingdom, any Syrian groups, Fatah, Hamas, and Hezbollah would probably be far less likely to lead to peace than supporting democratic and human rights respecting Israel. Even the more moderate Arab nations, such as Egypt and Jordan, have been violent and aggressive in the past, and have populations and elites that make declarations of anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism and express desires for acts of violence directed against Israel and the U.S.

The fifth national interest — to boost the U.S.’s popularity with the world — is also a frequent argument made by those who oppose Israel. Once again, this argument has surface appeal, but falls apart upon closer examination.

Most Arab and/or Muslim hatred or opposition towards the U.S. has little to do with the Palestinians. As the noted scholar Barry Rubin has written, “Arab and Muslim hatred of the United States is not just, or even mainly, a response to actual U.S. policies — policies that, if anything, have been remarkably pro-Arab and pro-Muslim over the years. Rather, such animus is largely the product of self-interested manipulation by various groups within Arab society…”[3]

A study on this question, by the distinguished historian Efraim Karsh, found that “this argument is not only completely unfounded, but the inverse of the truth. For even though the ‘Palestine question’ has long formed the main common denominator of pan-Arab solidarity and its most effective rallying cry, neither the Arab states nor Palestinian leaders have truly wanted the ‘liberation of Palestine.’” Further, he wrote, “any notion claiming a link between finding a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and attaining regional peace and stability is both false and misleading.” Even the anti-Semitic view of the Arab masses has nothing to do with the Palestinian cause. “Not once has the proverbial ‘Arab street’ driven the Arab regimes to war with Israel; it was rather the Arab masses, indoctrinated for decades with vile anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hatred, who have been repeatedly goaded into violence by their unelected rulers so as to divert attention from their own marginalization and repression.”

Dennis Ross — who has served as a diplomat in the last four presidential administrations — has written that recent events in the region has also proven the idea that “you can’t transform the region, or America’s position in the region, unless you solve the Palestinian issue” to be false. In fact, “(t)oday most of the Arab Sunni states see Israel as a bulwark against both the Iranians and Islamic State and groups claiming loyalty to it. While they may keep their cooperation largely private — given public sensitivities about the Palestinian issue — the scope of what Israel is now doing with a number of Arab states on security is unprecedented.”

Then, there is the historical record. Several times, the U.S. has actually adopted anti-Israel policies. Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, [George H.W.] Bush and Obama all did. Every single one of these administrations were disappointed by the results of these anti-Israel policies; rather than gaining from the outreach, they typically produced more Arab demands.

In the 1950’s, the Eisenhower Administration sought to separate itself from Israel to improve the U.S. position in the Middle East. As scholar Mitchell Bard has written, it didn’t work: “Despite President Eisenhower’s initial pursuit of policies toward Israel that were unhelpful at best, such as keeping the Jewish state out of military alliances and opposing arms and aid requests and, later, during the Suez crisis, threatening to take a variety of punitive actions if Israel did not withdraw from the Sinai, relations with much of the Arab world worsened. The Soviets gained a foothold in the region using Egypt as a proxy to weaken U.S. allies in the late 1950s.” Michael Doran’s book on Eisenhower’s, called “Ike’s Gamble,” has explored these policies in greater detail, and found that Eisenhower came to realize far too late that he had made a major mistake in believing this pearl of American conventional wisdom.

In the 2009-2017 period, we saw much of the same thing. During the years under President Obama, the U.S. has distanced itself from its allies, including Israel, and has increasingly made benevolent gestures towards its bitter enemies, like Hamas. As a result, the world, and the Middle East, has become a much more violent and dangerous place for Americans and U.S. interests, as other nations have become incentivized to oppose America.

However, even with the Obama Administration showing a marked bias against Israel, the U.S. was still not particularly popular in much of the Arab and/or Muslim world. The Egyptians were disgruntled with the U.S. mainly because of U.S. action regarding the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which brutalized their own people, driving millions of them into the streets. The radical Iranian leadership still hates the U.S. because they are radical Muslims and we are infidels, or the “Great Satan,” in their words. The same thinking applies to the transnational fundamentalist Muslim groups of al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia was angry at America as a result of the U.S.’s policies in Syria, Egypt, and Iran. All these Arab and/or Muslim countries love to mouth words of support for their Palestinian brothers, but in reality, many of them either hate or ignore the Palestinians. They rarely put their money where their mouths are by giving the Palestinians tangible humanitarian support.

None of these five interests has been conclusively disproven, but all seem to rather weak arguments that do not provide a truly compelling argument to reverse U.S. support for Israel.

National Moral Judgments

Now, for the classical realist alone, let us examine the U.S.’s oft-stated moral interests regarding foreign policy. 1) U.S. leaders have historically expressed their desire to maximize human rights and democratic rights throughout the world. 2) The U.S. habitually cites its desire for a peaceful world. 3) Specific to Israel itself, many religious Christians and Jews support Israel based on biblical verses that claim that God favors Israel and those people that support it. 4) In general, the American people have a predisposition to aid the victims of aggression, and fight the aggressors.

Regarding the first moral interest; since Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East that even attempts to protect its religious, ethnic, gender and sexual minorities, it is hard to argue that the U.S. should not support it in its struggles if the U.S. truly wanted to maximize human and democratic rights in the region.

Certainly, the state that would replace it — either completely, or in just in Judea and Samaria — doesn’t seem to care much about human rights. In the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority holds sway, elections arerare and suspect, women are discriminated against, Christians are persecuted, people are imprisoned without trial and tortured, the press is not free, and terrorists who kill innocents — including American travelers to Israel — are paid and celebrated. In Gaza, where the terror group Hamas rules, in addition to all the above problems, Christians are not just persecuted, they are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, and sometimes tortured and murdered for “spreading Christianity.” And the human rights records of the PA and Hamas have only gotten worse.

For that matter, few of the Arab and/or Muslim states are known for protecting the human rights or democratic rights of their people. According to Freedom House, “The Middle East and North Africa registered the worst civil liberties scores of any region.” Except for Israel, of course. In most of the Arab and/or Muslim world, women are treatedrather poorly. Many Arab and/or Muslim societies have high rates of honor killings. In Saudi Arabia, women can’t vote, must be veiled, are forbidden from leaving their home without a male counterpart, and are even disallowed from driving automobiles. In Iran, many of the above rules are also followed, and law further decrees that girls are held criminally responsible at the ages of 8-9 years old, while criminal responsibility for boys begins at 15. As a result, in Iran, child executions continue to be high. In “most of the Middle East, homosexuality is a taboo and can result in harsh punishments if someone is found guilty.” In Saudi Arabia, a gay man was recently sentenced to three years and 450 lashes. In Iran, men are hung, often from cranes, for homosexuality.

However, despite these facts, there are still some Israel critics who complain about Israel’s democracy and human rights record, usually tossing around such language as “apartheid, genocide, security walls, Nazi-like behavior,” and other catch phrases. Quite frankly, such critics are rarely making a serious argument. There is no genocide and noapartheid in Israel or the West Bank. (Gaza is now ruled by Hamas.) All restrictions on Arabs within Israel and the disputed territories are onlythere to enhance Israeli security. In fact, there were very few walls and checkpoints prior to the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. Arab Muslims who are Israeli citizens have full rights in their nation, including the right to vote for the Parliament. Most other Middle Eastern states do not give their citizens the right to vote in frequent and fair elections, including Hamas in Gaza and Jordan, both of which are majority Palestinian Arab states/entities. The Israeli Defense Forces has been praised for its respect for human rights, “during Operation Protective Edge [in 2014] … Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard.”

In regard to the second moral principle, maximizing peace, Israel is the only democratic state in the region, and like most democratic states, its people tend to favor peace. In poll after poll, its people have consistently expressed their desires for peace with the Palestinians and their neighbors. Every single war that the Jewish state has been involved in has been defensive in nature.

Meanwhile, throughout the rest of the region, few other nations push for peace, especially since the “Arab Spring.” Dictators rule through violence, and polls of the general population show significant levels of hostility towards non-Muslims, and express sizable support for the death penalty for apostates and adulterers, honor killings, suicide bombings, and Sharia law. As a result of the violence from the Arab and/or Muslim majorities, nearly the entire Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel was forced to flee, mainly to Israel. Today, much of the Christian population in the Middle East is in physical danger and is fleeing to the West. Warfare is rampant in the region. And the idea that another Arab state in the West Bank will be peaceful is ludicrous.

In regard to the third moral principle — religion — obviously, religious Christian and Jewish Americans who believe in the truth of their religion have a “moral” reason to favor Israel. Although many secularists might object to these arguments, the segment of American society that believes them is substantial, even in the halls of Congress.

Finally, in regards to the fourth moral principle, the Israelis are, once again, rarely the initiators of the violence directed against them. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Arabs are the aggressors in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

An evaluation of these moral concerns of the U.S. seem to argue for continuing firm American support for the Jewish state.

The U.S. as the Weak Horse

Even if it were possible to curry favor with the Arab and/or Muslim world by suddenly opposing Israel, few anti-Israel realists address the fact that a reversal in U.S. attitudes cannot automatically expunge sixty-plus years of the narrative of the (perhaps supposed) strong U.S. friendship and support for Israel.

In fact, it might do just the opposite. It is often said that in the Middle East “(p)ower is respected; weakness is not.” This concept has also been popularized by Osama Bin Laden, who memorably was quoted as saying that people favor the “strong horse” over the “weak horse.” He meant that most Muslims respect and support a strong nation, even if that nation is not always friendly towards them, rather than a weak nation that keeps trying to endear itself to them.[4]

So, if the U.S. started expressing hostility and opposing Israel now — after 60-plus years of warm friendship — this might actually be considered another example of the U.S. showing weakness. And if the U.S. shows weakness, based on the “strong horse” theory, Arabs and/or Muslims would be culturally predisposed to oppose the U.S.

Then again, perhaps this is exactly what has happened during the last seven years?


Contrary to conventional wisdom, realists do not have to be hostile to the Jewish state. Both of the two types of realists examined here — “classical” and “moral-free” — should be focused on developing state policy(ies) that most effectively maximize “our national interest(s).” In both cases, those policies should include support for the state of Israel.

[1] The oft-mentioned national interest “Combating the War on Terror,” which is in reality a “Combating the War on Al-Qaeda and similar jihadist groups and nations,” is really just a subset of this principle.

[2] Note that I am not in any way arguing against the U.S. providing these troops and aid. I am just acknowledging their costs.

[3] Note that Barry Rubin is making the argument that U.S. policies are “remarkably pro-Arab and pro-Muslim,” contrary to the conventional wisdom, which asserts that the U.S. has pursued pro-Israel policies. My argument focuses on the conventional wisdom, and does not actually attempt to determine if, in truth, over the years, on average, the U.S. policies have generally been pro-Israel or not.

[4] This rule may not just apply to the Arab and/or Muslim world.

This article was originally published at Newsmax:

Photo credit: Sally Morrow

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My Experience in Israel: It Is Not What You See On TV

I recently traveled to Israel as part of a study abroad program through the American University in Washington, DC. As a master’s student concentrating on peace and conflict resolution and as a Kurd from northern Iraq, I was curious about the intense hostility toward Jews in the Middle East, the negative bias in the mainstream media and the continuous antisemitic lectures and activities on college campuses, including my own university.

My trip to Israel was unique. I was able to travel there through the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Having departed from the Sulaymaniyah International Airport in the KRI, I was sent off with a smile among my fellow Kurds without any shame, despite the fact that a trip to Israel is taboo among Middle Easterners.

Upon arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, I was briefly held back by security due to concerns about a first-time traveler to Israel coming from an Arab state with no diplomatic relations (Iraq). This was understandable and expected, I too expect heavy screening towards foreigners entering the KRI due to the hostility of the region. I successfully and peacefully passed through airport security with a visa that would allow me to stay beyond my permitted time.

My first interaction with an Israeli was with a taxi driver driving me to my hotel. His conversations were animated, his politics realistic. He said he doesn’t care what religion one believes in, he just wants to live in peace. I tested the waters and told him I was Kurdish and he was very excited.

His eyes lit up and he immediately called for establishing a Kurdistan without my prodding. “That was easy,” I said to myself.

My time in Tel Aviv was brief, a little over a week. But what the city offered was unprecedented to me, especially in the Middle East. It is modern, filled will young Israelis enjoying life at the beaches, nightlife spots, restaurants. It is also historical and diverse. I witnessed Muslims and Jews intermingling, mosques calling for prayer, Arab families enjoying their time together on the beaches after breaking their fast. No one bothered others; everyone minded their own business. I tried hard to discover instances of negative interactions between the two peoples, but they even smoked hookah together at the local café.

I thought that maybe Tel Aviv is in its own little bubble, distant from the reality we witness every day in the media, so together with my class, we took a bus ride to Jerusalem.

I was excited, having heard so much about the ancient city – from the time when the Kurdish sultan Saladin Ayubi conquered the Old City from the Crusaders to the current Arab-Israeli conflict.

After a short ride, we checked into our dorms and got a tour of Hebrew University, where we would be studying for the rest of the trip. Hebrew University has a beautiful campus situated on a hill overlooking the Old City. Without having any knowledge of the school, I assumed there would be only Israelis studying there, but again I was wrong. Young college students included Jews, Muslims, women with and without headscarves all together at this institution. I was still struggling to find the picture that the Arab world and the mainstream media have painted.

Throughout my time in Jerusalem I had the opportunity to speak with locals and elected officials, Arabs and Israelis at cafés, restaurants, bars, in the Muslim quarter, the Knesset, the shuk (outdoor bazaar) and so on. My interactions with Palestinians took place in the Muslim quarter, at the local restaurants and tea houses – all men, as talking with the women was looked down upon.

I entered the Old City through the Damascus Gate, although I was warned to not enter there because the site had been the scene of stabbings and attacks. I thought to myself, “I’ll be fine – I’m from Kirkuk, a far more dangerous city.”

Wanting to experience the real Jerusalem, I stayed away from popular tourist sites such as the shopping centers and famous high-end restaurants and explored the Old City and the surrounding area for the next few weeks. I made a few Palestinian friends over hookah and Arabic coffee. They tried to not discuss politics but were also keen on labeling me Iraqi. I accepted their opinions, but they were more excited about America and the dream of one day moving there.

I also visited the walls built around the Palestinian territories.

My feelings were mixed, but having personally experienced war and refugee camps from Arab governments, Syrian President Bashar Assad and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a Palestinian ally, I thought although it is not the ideal solution for either side – safety and security are better than terrorism.

One conversation that would stick with me was with a uniformed IDF soldier in his early 20s. I approached him while he was sitting alone having lunch, and began to slowly move past small talk. He was proud to serve his nation and was ready to defend it both literally and verbally.

He wasn’t a “tough guy,” he simply loved his nation.

He mentioned although it is mandatory for him to serve in the IDF, he would have done it regardless. He was also curious where I was from. When I replied Kurdistan, he shook his head in sadness, acknowledging that we are without a state and thanked me for our people fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

We had the privilege of visiting the Knesset. Thanks to my professor, who attempted to keep the meetings with guest MKs balanced, we were given views from the far Left, Right and everything in between. The most surprising comments were made by MK Taleb Abu Arar of the United Arab List, who openly declared Israel an undemocratic terrorist country while supporting Hamas and staunchly backing Turkish President Erdogan. He ignored my questions about double standards on Kurds in Turkey. I thought to myself, “You are calling Israel undemocratic? But you have a seat in their Knesset, you’re openly supporting Hamas and calling the government terrorist? Interesting.”

Unfortunately, the night before the end of the program, when I was having coffee inside Damascus Gate, a terrorist attack occurred. An IDF soldier by the name of Hadas Malka, only 23, was stabbed and lost her life after being rushed to the hospital. The gates were shut down, the city was on alert and Palestinians flocked to the streets to protest. Tel Aviv may be in its own bubble, but Jerusalem is fragile. People do want peace on both sides. We just have to move beyond those who incite terrorism. Israel is not the horror movie we witness on TV or by academics – it is a country simply striving to survive in a hostile region.

Photo credit: Israel Bardugo
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When the Enemy is Within the Gate

Throughout history, nations have gone to war against enemies. In the 1700s, the United States fought against England to exist. In World War II, the allies defeated the Nazis. And after World War II, the U.S. fought, either literally or rhetorically, against Communist forces during the Cold War. War is typically fought against enemies who attack one’s homeland or that of an ally: the enemy at the gate. But what if that enemy is not at the gate but within it? How can one fight an enemy that lives among the citizens of that nation? And how does one do it when the international community is looking over one’s shoulder, condemning one’s every move?

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