Donald Trump. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Trump fails to ‘shoot Iran’s little boats out of the water’

Speaking at a crowded campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida last September, then Republican nominee Donald Trump issued a stern threat to Tehran. Responding to a recent incident where Iranian ships harassed a US navy patrol, Trump warned, “With Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures — that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.”

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Only months into Trump’s presidency, Iran has continued its provocative actions, south of the Strait of Hormuz. US officials told CBS News earlier this month that Iranian Revolutionary Guard fast boats positioned themselves in front of the USNS Invincible, a move deemed “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”

Nonetheless, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard ships were not “shot out of the water.” Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for Research at the Foundations for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) told Jewish Insider, “What we are looking at is an evolving Iran policy. I think we are still in the early days.” At the same time, Schanzer emphasized that personnel changes have clearly impacted the Trump administration’s actions. “It can’t be ignored that we’ve seen a changing of the guard over the last two months with the exit of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the entrance of H.R. McMaster. We’ve certainly seen tougher rhetoric and an inclination to use sanctions, but I don’t think a policy has fully taken shape yet.”

“We have seen a President who is rather committed in following through on his campaign promises,” Schanzer continued. “This, I think, has been a point of pride for this Administration. I wouldn’t discount the possibility of a US challenge to the Iranians in this regard. The context of Flynn putting Iran on-notice and reportedly having a very robust policy regarding Iran and then his exit shouldn’t be ignored. It’s not to say that there isn’t continuity between Flynn and McMaster but some of this still remains to be seen. All things equal, you are still at the early days of McMaster.”

When asked about Trump’s September declaration and the recent Iranian naval aggression, Michael Makovsky, President of JINSA told Jewish Insider, “That is the difference between campaigning and governing.” Makovsky agreed with Schanzer that Trump’s skeleton National Security team may limit his ability to respond decisively. “We don’t even have an under Secretary of Defense for Policy proposed yet. The issue is to be prepared for what the Iranians could do after that. That takes more planning and I’m just not sure from a personnel standpoint they have enough of the right staff in place yet to do all that planning,” he added.

What could the appropriate response to continued Iranian provocative naval actions? “There could be renewed sanctions against those who are carrying these attacks. We could see a full designation of the IRGC, for example. Not to mention additional sanctions on proxies in the Gulf,” Schanzer explained.Other options include “arming the countries that oppose Iran in the region to empower those who are trying to counter Iran through military means and of course there are kinetic and cyber options as well.”

Makovsky supports a military response. “The key is if they harass our ships, we have to sink them. He’s (Trump) right. We can’t look like we’re afraid of a confrontation. On the contrary, we need to show that we are not afraid and we are fully prepared for one. If the Iranians misbehave, then we’re going to push back. There will be consequences for the Iranians,” he declared.

Report praises Israel’s effort to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza

Israel’s military went far beyond its legal obligation last summer during its Gaza operation to prevent civilian casualties, according to report by a panel of former senior U.S. military officials and legal experts.

The Gaza Conflict Task Force report, which was released Wednesday, was commissioned by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, or JINSA.

The task force called the conflict “Hybrid Warfare: where non-state actors equipped with advanced weapons operate in densely populated urban areas, disregarding the safety of civilians and capitalizing on its enemy’s efforts to comply with the law.”

The report praised the Israel Defense Forces for its effort to limit civilian casualties, such as alerting residents in a targeted area through phone calls, leaflets and low impact explosives, but also emphasized that the United States and Israel should study the conflict in order to find a balance between mitigating civilian casualties and achieving mission objectives.

Michael Makovsky, JINSA’s chief executive officer, said the task force compiled the report after making a fact-finding mission to Israel, where they met with Israeli, United Nations and Palestinians officials, as well as analyzing primary and secondary research.

JINSA, a Washington-based nonprofit group, advocates for a strong U.S. military relationship with Israel.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Israel of committing war crimes and violations of the laws of war during its Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza.

Larry Greenfield to head JINSA

Larry Greenfield, a Los Angeles-area native, has been named national executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs in Washington, D.C., JINSA president David Ganz has announced.

JINSA was founded in 1976 as a non-partisan and non-sectarian think tank and its motto calls for “Securing America and Strengthening Israel.” Its major emphasis is on the importance of a strong U.S. defense capability and on close military ties between Israel and the United States.

Greenfield, 50, was born in Long Beach and grew up in Encino and has worked in the fields of law, business, philanthropy, politics, Jewish organizational life and academe.

Looking at one of the early challenges in his new job, Greenfield said, “I take my appointment as underscoring JINSA’s advocacy to the rising threats from Iran with sanctions that do not leak or waiver, and in a strong military alliance with our close ally, Israel.”

JINSA’s Ganz commented, “We are thrilled to have Larry Greenfield join JINSA as the new executive director. Larry’s dynamic leadership and vision will lift JINSA to even greater heights as the leading organization supporting a strong U.S. military and a strong American security relationship with Israel.”

Among JINSA’s key annual programs are study missions to Israel for retired U.S. flag and general officers, and separately for cadets and midshipmen from America’s three military academies.

A graduate of UC Berkeley and the Georgetown University law school, Greenfield has been active in the California Jewish community as regional director of the Republican Jewish Coalition and of the Israel Cancer Research Fund.

He has also served as vice president of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, and on the board of the Endowment for Middle East Truth and of the Israel-Christian Nexus.

Greenfield was the founding executive director of the Reagan Legacy Foundation and is a Fellow in American Studies of the Claremont Institute and a Senior Fellow of the American Freedom Alliance. He has also served in the U.S. Naval Intelligence Reserve.

JINSA leads Hispanic group to Israel

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs is sending 16 U.S. Hispanic leaders to Israel.

The group, leaving this Saturday, will meet “with police and military personnel, business leaders, religious figures and government officials, including President Shimon Peres,” according to a JINSA release.

The group includes business executives, community leaders, state lawmakers, a police chief and a judge.

Community Briefs

Gaming Commission Postpones MoskowitzVote

The California Gambling Control Commission again has postponed a vote on Dr. Irving Moskowitz’s permanent license request for his Hawaiian Gardens Casino card club, which peace activists decry as a funding tool for West Bank settlers.

“There has been more significant opposition to this than there has been to any other application,” said commission chief counsel Peter Melnicoe, who wants California Department of Justice gambling investigators to double-check Moskowitz’s application, whose casino-style card club now operates with a temporary, provisional license. “We plan to ask the Division of Gambling Control to clarify certain points.”

Unlike the commission’s Dec. 18 and Jan. 9 hearings in downtown Los Angeles, the Moskowitz application did not dominate the Feb. 26 hearing, with the application postponed in routine fashion and no outcry from opponents or supporters. The application is not on the commission’s two March meeting agendas.

A long activist battle has been waged against Moskowitz, a retired Long Beach doctor whose rise as a Bingo impresario radically changed tiny, poor Hawaiian Gardens in southeast Los Angeles County. Though he enjoys Hawaiian Gardens and Jewish community support, the activists’ main gripe is that Moskowitz uses part of his gambling proceeds to buy East Jerusalem land for Jewish settlers.

“We want to take a methodological approach to evaluating the complaints and the charges that have been made,” Melnicoe told The Journal. “We’re going to try to expedite this as much as we can, but at the same time we want to give consideration to the merits of the application.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

LAPD Members Visit Israel

Leaders in the Los Angeles Police Department, such as John Miller, commander of the Critical Incident Management Bureau; Joe Polisar, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police; and William Gore, special assistant to the Department of Justice in Southern California, traveled to Israel in February as participants in the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs’ (JINSA) Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP).

The law enforcement officials joined 14 of the most senior police chiefs, sheriffs and state police commanders in Israel to intensively study counterterrorism techniques. They were briefed on bomb disposal, the increasing sophistication of domestic terrorists, the mindset of suicide bombers and how to secure large venues, such as shopping malls and concert halls, without disrupting the enjoyment of the public.

The LEEP program is designed to establish cooperation between U.S. and Israeli law enforcement personnel and to give the U.S. law enforcement community access to the lessons learned by the Israelis in the interdiction of and response to all forms of terrorism.

The Israeli National Police hosted the JINSA group in cooperation with the Israel Security Agency and the Israel Defense Forces.

“Nothing can replicate American officials seeing these types of programs firsthand, and the systems that are put in place to deal with them,” said Steven Pomerantz, a member of JINSA’s board of advisers. — Gaby Wenig, Staff Writer

New Chance to Build Israel-Iraq Ties

As the United States begins rebuilding Iraq, pro-Israel activists are watching closely, seeing an opportunity for the Jewish state to improve ties with another Arab neighbor.

Much of that hope has been placed in the hands of Ahmed Chalabi, a leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) opposition group, who has forged strong ties with the White House and the Pentagon in recent years — and has built a strong following in the American Jewish community.

"There’s no track record of anyone else in Iraqi leadership having a relationship with the Jewish community," said Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

Chalabi’s group has been assigned to help U.S. troops impose order in Baghdad — a sign, some argue, that the INC is favored to play a large role in any interim government the United States forms in Iraq. However, the INC is not universally liked within the Bush administration. Reports stress that the State Department and the CIA are concerned about the INC’s lack of popular support in Iraq.

The Jewish Institute and other Jewish organizations met with Chalabi and other INC leaders last fall, part of the Jewish community’s effort to strengthen Israel’s relations with the Arab world. While the Bush administration was preparing at the time to overthrow the regime in Baghdad, both the INC and Jewish groups said they had something to gain from a strong bond.

The INC saw improved relations as a way to tap Jewish influence in Washington and Jerusalem and to drum up increased support for its cause. For their part, the Jewish groups saw an opportunity to pave the way for better relations between Israel and Iraq, if and when the INC is involved in replacing Saddam Hussein’s regime.

"Because Saddam was so anti-Israel, the hope is that all of Saddam’s policies will be revisited, including his relationship with Israel and the United States," Neumann said. "There’s no reason for the Iraqi people to have a problem with Israel."

The INC’s relationship with JINSA also is significant because Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who has been assigned to lead the U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, has traveled with JINSA and supported the organization’s agenda.

While JINSA has had a relationship with Chalabi for 10 years, according to Neumann, other Jewish groups are supporting him publicly for the first time. Yet some observers worry that a public relationship could work against the interests of Jewish groups and the Iraqi opposition.

Michael Amitay, executive director of the Washington Kurdish Institute, said Jewish groups might run into problems by working only with Chalabi and Entifadh Qanbar, director of the INC’s Washington office, because the organization does not have strong support in Iraq, where there are numerous opposition groups.

Perceived Jewish support for Chalabi could "drive a wedge between Chalabi and other forces in the Iraqi opposition," said Amitay, whose father, Morris Amitay, is vice chairman of JINSA’s board of directors. Calling the Jewish approach "shortsighted," Michael Amitay said it would be "much more helpful if Jewish groups reached out to other groups, such as the Kurds," as well.

Qanbar disputed that claim. He said Jewish groups have been among the first to form an alliance with the INC, because they realize support for the organization is growing within the Bush administration.

"Jewish groups have a strong understanding of American politics," he said. "It’s an indication that there is a new phase of policy."

Some also worry that Chalabi’s good words won’t translate into a pro-Israel foreign policy. Pressure to garner support from inside Iraq and the rest of the Arab world could force the INC to abandon its pro-Israel position.

In addition, the Bush administration’s appointment of a military leader and encouragement of a dissident group with ties to Israel has played into conspiracy theories in the Arab world that the United States went to war in Iraq for Israel’s benefit — perhaps constraining the next Iraqi government’s latitude to approach Israel.

"It’s far too early to even speculate where any of them will be and what their positions will be," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "It never works out the way people think it is going to work out."

The INC was founded shortly after the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, combining several smaller opposition forces within Iraq. It is based in Salahuddin in northern Iraq and has its external base in London. The group operates a newspaper, television station, regional offices and a center for humanitarian relief.

The United States has given the INC more than $26 million during the past three years. American aid to the group was suspended in January, because of INC’s alleged mismanagement of funds, but was resumed a month later.

Qanbar said he believes good relations with Israel are possible under a new regime, because Saddam was the one who had a problem with Israel, not the Iraqi people.

The Jewish War

On the Sept. 30 MSNBC show “Hardball,” Chris Matthews hosted a debate between Pat Buchanan and Republican political analyst David Frum. Buchanan opposed a United States-led invasion of Iraq, while Frum supported President George W. Bush’s plan for tough inspections first followed by — if those inspections fail — the forceful removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.

That we’ve all heard before. But what I hadn’t heard before — what I wasn’t even sure I was hearing as I reclined comfortably on my couch — was the repeated reference to the fact that the pro-war advisers are Jews. Matthews said it. Frum said it. Buchanan, whose love of the Jewish people and Israel would win him no Lion of Judah awards, seemed to strain mightily against saying it, and refused to snap at the bait Matthews dangled before him.

I haven’t tried contacting Matthews to ask him why he felt it important to mention that the pro-invasion advisers were Jewish. He might tell me, “Because they are.” And this is true. A large number are, including leading attack-Iraq proponents Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Defense Department Undersecretary of Policy Douglas Feith and Defense Policy Board Chair Richard Perle. Among the most ardent pro-invasion pundits are William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, The New York Times’ William Safire and Commentary’s Norman Podhoretz.

Of course, the looney left and wiggy right have plastered the Web with attacks on the Jewish cabal in the White House. Type “Iraq,” “policy” and “Jews” into Google, hit enter, and the whole American circus of Jew-haters comes marching across your computer screen. That’s to be expected.

What has caught me by surprise is the extent to which more mainstream opponents of the war have adopted some of the same rhetoric. In an opinion piece, Matthews wrote of a “coterie of neo-conservative thinkers” who shifted the legitimate war against Al Qaeda into a long-sought war with Baghdad. “Out of the ashes of Sept. 11, they and their rightist associates found what they’ve long yearned for: an American government heading toward war in the Middle East,” Matthews wrote.

An article by Jason Vest in the Sept. 2 issue of The Nation claimed that the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Center for Security Policy (CSP) constitute a “shadow defense establishment” pushing America toward all-out war on behalf of Israel. Perle and Feith sit on the JINSA board, and American policy has now become synonymous with Israel’s interest, Vest wrote. The article, “The Men From JINSA and CSP,” has become a prooftext to those who claim a Jewish cabal or, as Matthews would have it, “coterie” at work.

Whether you agree with the planned invasion of Iraq or not, to call it a war fomented by American Jewry to serve Israel’s interests is ludicrous. For one, American Jewish legislators are divided on the issue. While Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) is a strong supporter, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the important Senate Armed Services Committee, has consistently urged caution. Jewish groups are divided as well. All strongly oppose Saddam, but no major group has reached a consensus on the use of force to bring about his downfall or on unilateral action against him. And it’s fair to point out — as long as Matthews and others are checking IDs here — that the focus on Iraq is the policy of a Christian president, his mostly Christian advisers, his Christian Cabinet and a largely Christian Congress acting at the behest of a majority of their Christian constituents.

There is a case to be made — no sense in hiding it — that a United States-led attack on Iraq would make the Middle East a much better place for Israel. An Israeli official confirmed to me one possible scenario that has been well-documented in the press lately: the United States leads an invasion of Iraq, focusing part of its initial attack on taking out armaments that threaten Israel. Israel refrains from responding to any attack from Iraq, as per the president’s request. But Hezbollah uses the invasion to launch an attack across Israel’s northern border, and Israel responds to that attack with a massive show of force against Hezbollah and its sponsor Syria. When the dust clears, Iran finds itself surrounded by changed regimes in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, making it inevitable that the hard-liners will fall from power there too. And what about the Palestinians? America will impose a solution on Israel and the Palestinians — finish the business once and for all — and Israel will be hard-pressed to say no considering America’s war effort.

(This explains why the administration is obsessed with Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear weapons while giving North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction a pass — invade North Korea and you deter one despot, invade Iraq and you change history.)

That, anyway, is the optimistic scenario, and if the war against Iraq goes well, the conspiracy theorists will remain on the fringe. But should America get sucked into a debilitating conflict, if Israel appears to have gained strategic ground at the expense of large numbers of American lives, the fringe will move onto center stage, and the calls to label Bush’s policy a Jewish war will rouse us, sharply and painfully, from our couches.