President Donald Trump is flanked by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office of the White House on May 10. Photo by Russia Foreign Minister Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Trump blew it, big-league


The New York Times has a new feature called “Say Something Nice About Trump.”

Last week, I was all set to do so. As President Donald Trump was preparing to embark on his first official trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, I found myself thinking nice things. It occurred to me that on the Israel-Palestinian issue, Trump had come out of the gate in a far more effective way than his predecessors.

On May 8, for instance, I was on a phone call with Dennis Ross, the former United States ambassador who served four American presidents as a Middle East envoy and negotiator. And this is what Ross said: Donald Trump has a better chance than President Barack Obama did at making peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite Trump’s support from the anti-two-state-solution crowd, despite the fact Trump’s own ambassador to Israel called pro-two-state groups “worse than kapos,” Ross said Trump has handled the Middle East diplomatic dance better than Obama so far. He said Trump has impressed the Palestinian leadership, gained their trust. And he had the Israelis in his pocket.

For someone who has seen Trump as dangerous to Israel’s future and ill-informed on Middle East affairs, it was surreal —but heartening.

“What is going on,” Ross said of the president, “is he continues to emphasize that this is a deal he really wants to do. Only last week, he said he couldn’t think of a single reason why he can’t reach agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. I think what he meant by that, not that there weren’t differences, but that ultimately those differences shouldn’t prevent a deal. In any case, this is one of those challenges that is deeply rooted [for Trump]. What the president has done is make [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] more relevant, which is important at a time when he does not have a lot of popularity.”

Ross’ call, arranged by The Israel Project, came on the eve of Trump’s visit in Washington with Abbas. The remarkable part was that Ross outlined a clear way forward toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, out of the long and dangerous impasse between the sides. And the Moses who could lead them? Donald J. Trump.

Trump has leverage, Ross said. He is seen as someone who can deliver and, beyond that, someone who, unlike Obama, will exact a cost if he’s rejected. So Trump can make tough demands of Abbas, including ending payments to the families of terrorists, and — in private — can ask for difficult sacrifices from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I was listening, shaking my head, wondering if I had completely misjudged Trump when it comes to Middle East policy. Perhaps I had overestimated the hard-line attitude of his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Perhaps I hadn’t taken into account the moderating forces of Trump’s childhood friend, Ron Lauder.

But more likely, I had forgotten my cardinal rule for understanding Donald J. Trump: The man will say anything in a room to make a sale. Alec Baldwin is not Trump. Trump is Alec Baldwin — in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

“Because only one thing counts in this life!” Baldwin’s real estate huckster character says. “Get them to sign on the line which is dotted!”

To get elected, Trump had to appeal to evangelicals and pro-Israel hard-liners like Sheldon Adelson. But to sell a bigger deal as president, he has new constituencies. The Saudi vote isn’t big in Florida or Wisconsin, but it sure matters in the Middle East.

“The more the administration, the president and his representatives are dealing with the Arab leaders, the more what they’re hearing from them is they’re prepared to work with them,” Ross said. “But on [the Palestinian-Israeli] issue, they’re asking for a two-state outcome.”

So in the spirit of saying something nice about Trump, I was all set to assert that he would continue to confound the very people who trusted him to do exactly what hard-liners in Israel, and their American armchair Golanis, want him to do.

But then, Trump happened. That is, shortly before his trip abroad, the president gave sensitive intelligence information to the Russians, intelligence that was revealed to have come via Israel.

Here’s how bad this is: Israeli intelligence had somehow penetrated ISIS command well enough to get detailed knowledge of its upcoming terror attacks. Now those methods and sources are burned, thanks to the president of the United States. The fact that Russia can now discern the methods and sources for that intelligence and pass it on to their allies the Iranians, who can funnel it to Hezbollah, is a criminal act against Israel.

This disaster will shadow Trump’s trip, shuffle the equation in ways that are now impossible to imagine — even if no other shoes drop between now and when he touches down in Israel.

The evidence was building that Trump was not going to be the hand puppet Sheldon Adelson thought he bought Bibi for Chanukah. Now, flying across the Atlantic with a self-inflicted puncture to his competence and credibility, Trump needs Bibi more than ever to keep his credibility afloat.

A week ago, Trump was positioned perfectly to land in Israel and shake things up. Now he will arrive, shaken, weakened, vulnerable, neutered.

I tried so hard to say something nice. It’s still not the time. And there’s no one to blame but Donald Trump.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Lena Dunham book leaks


The book proposal that landed “Girls” creator Lena Dunham a $3.7 million publishing deal was leaked online on Monday.

The 66-page proposal explains the ideas behind the book, “Not That Kind of Girl,” and reveals it will be divided into six sections: Work, Friendship, Body, Sex, Love and Big Picture, the Christian Science Monitor reported. The structure of the book by the Jewish actress, writer and director is inspired by the late Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown’s “Having It All.”

“I’ve never kept a diary,” Dunham wrote in the introduction. “I remember being given a journal around age six, penning a long paragraph about my massive crush on Colin Bliss (what a name!) and then leaving it casually strewn open on the kitchen counter for my parents to ‘find.’ Here was my feeling: if a girl writes in her diary and no one’s there to read it did she really write at all?”

Some notable quotes from the proposal include: “Every ice pop I ate, every movie I watched, every poem I wrote was tinged with a fearful loss,” and “I’ve been in therapy since I was seven.”

The leaked proposal was posted on various blogs and websites, but was taken down when Dunham’s attorney intervened. There is still no word if she is writing the book naked while eating cake.

Citing leak, Netanyahu disbands security cabinet meeting


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded a meeting of his security cabinet after information from the previous cabinet meeting was leaked to the press.

Netanyahu ended Wednesday’s meeting early, citing a leak that led to a report in the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot that Tuesday’s security cabinet meeting included conflicting views on the deadline for a possible attack on Iran’s alleged nuclear program.

The security cabinet is made up of 14 government ministers and discusses issues of Israeli national security.

“The security of the state and its citizens depends on the ability to hold confidential and in-depth discussions in the security cabinet,” read a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. “There, all the facts are shown, all opinions and all implications. This is a basic work tool in managing state security. Yesterday, somebody severely undermined the confidence that Israeli citizens give to this forum.”

The statement did not say when the next meeting would be, nor did it identify the leak.

Yediot’s article on Tuesday reported that Iran is continuing its quest for a nuclear weapon, and that cabinet members differed on when Iran will enter the “zone of immunity,” the point when Iran’s nuclear program becomes impenetrable.

Cables show shared Israeli, Arab concerns about Iran


A peek behind the scenes offered by the WikiLeaks cables published this week offer hints into U.S. and regional priorities. The two issues cropping up most often in the Middle East are Iran and Israeli-Arab peace. The cables also offer choice insights into how Americans interact with the locals.

Iran and peace

In private discussions, leaders from Egypt and Dubai both talk about their enmity for Hamas, and they and the Saudi king also warn of the dangers of Iran.

In a classified message from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in January 2008, Omar Suleiman, director of Egyptian General Intelligence, tells Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) that Iran “is supporting Jihad and spoiling peace, and has supported extremists in Egypt previously.” Iranian support of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood makes them “our enemy,” Suleiman says.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January 2009, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo wrote that after talking to Egyptian Foreign Minister Abdoul Gheit, he is positive that Egyptian President Mubarak sees Iran as Egypt’s “greatest long-term threat, both as it develops a nuclear capability and as it seeks to export its ‘Shia Revolution.’ ” As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mubarak is “proud of (Egypt’s) role as intermediary, well aware that they are perhaps the only player that can talk with the Israelis, all Palestinian factions, and (The U.S.). Mubarak hates Hamas, and considers them the same as Egypt’s own Muslim Brotherhood, which he sees as his own most dangerous political threat.”

The Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf share similar sentiments on Iran. A letter sent to Rice from the Dubai consul general in January 2007 states that in a meeting with Nicholas Burns, a State Department undersecretary, the emirate’s leader, Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, “agreed that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but warned of the dire regional consequences of military action.” In addition, Dubai agreed to cooperate in financial restrictions against Iran, but only if it is done quietly. The Dubai leader also said he hoped for a peace deal because it “would make Hamas everyone’s enemy.”

The Saudi king took his hatred toward Iran a step further, telling John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser in Washington in March 2009 that he had just finished a telephone conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and scolded him that that Iran should “stop interfering in Arab affairs.”

“A solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict would be a great achievement, the King said, but Iran would find other ways to cause trouble,” the cable reported. ” ‘Iran’s goal is to cause problems,’ he continued, ‘There is no doubt something unstable about them.’ “

The moving Iran deadline

In a March 2005 cable, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer describes Israel’s fear of Iran’s nuclear weapons program as reaching the “point of no return” when Iran is able to enrich uranium without assistance—a development believed to have been achieved by 2007.

The cables show that Israeli officials saw the diplomatic efforts vis-a-vis Iran as relevant and crucial. However, they expressed their disappointment with the European Union, which according to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was “too soft,” Kurtzer reported. As to the military option, unlike the strike against Iraq in 1981, hitting Iran would be a much more difficult task, and furthermore would “elicit a strong response from Arab states and the Palestinians, effectively freezing the peace process.”

In a May 2009 meeting between an American congressional delegation and Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, Barak stressed that “no option should be removed from the table when confronting Iran and North Korea.”

Barak also described the Iranians as “chess, not backgammon players,” who will “attempt to avoid any hook to hang accusations on, and look to Pakistan and N. Korea as models to emulate in terms of acquiring nuclear weapons while defying the international community.” Barak also estimated a window between six and 18 months from when the meeting was held in which “stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable.” After that, he said, “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.

He also expressed concern that should Iran develop nuclear capabilities, “other rogue states and/or terrorist groups would not be far behind.” Israeli officials now say the “no return” deadline is sometime in 2012.

Regional concerns

In a meeting between Mossad chief Meir Dagan and then-Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) on March 13, 2005 in Tel Aviv, Dagan expressed concerns about the fallout from the end of the Iraq War.

“Foreign fighters originating from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Syria and Yemen have arrived back in their home countries” after fighting together in Iraq, the Israeli top spy said.

Dagan said that Israel has “no assets in Iraq other than a friendly relationship with the Kurds.” However, he said that Israel has interest in the possible impact the jihadis might have in their home countries, especially in ones where the local governments might not be able to fully respond to the challenge brought by the militants.

In a meeting two years later, in July 2007, with Frances Townsend, President Bush’s top terrorism adviser, Dagan raised alarms about Pakistan’s stability.

‘‘Dagan characterized a Pakistan ruled by radical Islamists with a nuclear arsenal at their disposal as his biggest nightmare,” the cable said. “Al-Qaeda and other ‘Global Jihad’ groups could not be relied upon to behave rationally once in possession of nuclear weapons, said Dagan, as they do not care about the well being of states or their image in the media. ‘We have to keep (President Pervez) Musharaf in power,’ said Dagan.” Musharraf, facing allegations of corruption, resigned in 2008.

A wild wedding

A classified document from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow titled “A Caucasus Wedding” describes the life and culture of Dagestan, a republic in the north Caucasus. The detailed description, replete with references to drunken revelry and the corpulence of the locals, also refers to the members of the Jewish community, their numbers and habits.

A special reference was made to the chief rabbi of Stavropol-Kray, described as “a man who looked like Shamil Basayev,” a Chechen Islamist terrorist, “on his day off—flip-flops, T-shirt, baseball cap, beard—but turned out to be the chief rabbi of Stavropol-Kray. He told us he has 12,000 co-religionists in the province, 8,000 of them in its capital, Pyatigorsk. 70 percent are, like him, Persian-speaking Mountain Jews; the rest are a mixture of Europeans, Georgians and Bukharans.”

Elsewhere, it describes the regional compunction for ethnic identification, and how it seemed to be catching among the diplomats.

“After a couple of hours Dalgat’s convoy returned with Aida, horns honking,” the report says, referring to the groom, Dalgat Makhachev, the son of a lawmaker and oil magnate, Gadzhi Makhachev. “Dalgat and Aida got out of the Rolls and were serenaded into the hall, and into the Makhachev family, by a boys’ chorus lining both sides of the red carpet, dressed in costumes aping medieval Dagestani armor with little shields and swords. The couple’s entry was the signal for the emcee to roll into high gear, and after a few toasts the Piter ‘gypsies’ began their performance. (The next day one of Gadzhi’s houseguests sneered, ‘Some gypsies! The bandleader was certainly Jewish, and the rest of them were blonde.’ There was some truth to this, but at least the two dancing girls appeared to be Roma.)”