Israel’s Defense Ministry backs away from comparing Iran deal to Munich pact


Israel’s Defense Ministry offered a quasi-apology for comparing the Iran nuclear deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement.

On Monday, saying the media misinterpreted the original statement on Friday, the Defense Ministry said the reference to the Munich pact — a failed bid by European powers to appease Nazi Germany — “was not intended to make a direct comparison, either historically or personally. We are sorry if it was understood otherwise.”

The ministry added: “We wish to clarify that the State of Israel and Israeli defense establishment will continue to work in close and full cooperation with the US, out of a deep appreciation and mutual respect.”

The new statement added, however: “Israel remains deeply worried that even after the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Iranian leadership continues to declare that its central goal is the destruction of the State of Israel, and continues to threaten Israel’s existence in words and deeds.”

Israeli news reports over the weekend said the Prime Minister’s Office ordered the latter statement after being blindsided by the Defense Ministry’s statement on Friday. The Prime Minister’s Office worked overtime Friday night to downplay the original statement, including in a telephone call to the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, according to the reports.

The statement was in response to President Barack Obama saying on Thursday in defense of the deal, amid allegations that the United States paid Iran $400 million as “ransom” to secure the release of American prisoners, that the “Israeli military and security community … acknowledges this has been a game changer.”

“By all accounts, it has worked exactly the way we said it was going to work,” Obama also said.

“The Israeli defense establishment believes that agreements have value only if they are based on the existing reality, but they have no value if the facts on the ground are the complete opposite of those the deal is based upon,” the original Defense Ministry statement said.

“The Munich Agreement didn’t prevent the Second World War and the Holocaust precisely because its basis, according to which Nazi Germany could be a partner for some sort of agreement, was flawed, and because the leaders of the world then ignored the explicit statements of [Adolf] Hitler and the rest of Nazi Germany’s leaders. These things are also true about Iran, which also clearly states openly that its aim is to destroy the state of Israel.”

Clinton allies refute Trump’s claim on Obama’s Israel record


The Hillary campaign on Wednesday pushed back against Donald Trump’s 

Obama signs anti-BDS bill, objects to pro-settlement provisions


President Barack Obama reiterated his strong opposition to the BDS movement as he signed the “Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015″ on Wednesday despite the inclusion of a provision that makes anti-BDS sanctions equally applicable to “Israel” and “Israeli-controlled territories.”

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 256-158 and the Senate by a vote of 75-20, includes a clause that addresses politically motivated acts to limit or prohibit economic relations with Israel — targeting corporate entities or state-affiliated financial institutions from engaging in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

“I have directed my Administration to strongly oppose boycotts, divestment campaigns, and sanctions targeting the State of Israel,” President Obama said in a statement following the signing ceremony in the Oval Office. “As long as I am President, we will continue to do so.”

However, the President objected to the wording that conflates Israel and ‘Israeli-controlled territories,’ since they are “contrary to longstanding bipartisan United States policy, including with regard to the treatment of settlements.”

“Consistent with longstanding constitutional practice, my Administration will interpret and implement the provisions in the Act that purport to direct the Executive to seek to negotiate and enter into particular international agreements (section 414(a)(1)) or to take certain positions in international negotiations with respect to international agreements with foreign countries not qualifying for trade authorities procedures (sections 108(b), 414(a)(2), 415, and 909(c)) in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy,” the White House statement read.

Kerry on MOU agreement: ‘The sooner the better’


The sooner the post-Iran deal security package and the “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) between the U.S. and Israel on strategic cooperation is signed, the better it would be for both countries, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday.

“We are working on it now; we are in negotiations. We have never, ever put any of Israel’s needs or challenges on the table with respect to other issues between us,” Kerry said Thursday morning during a hearing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”I am confident we will get an MOU at some point and time. The sooner the better because it allows everybody to plan appropriately.”

Two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told cabinet members that it’s unclear whether the two countries will come to an agreement during Obama’s term. “[We] need to see if [we] can achieve a result that will address Israel’s security needs or perhaps we will not manage to come to an agreement with this administration and will need to come to an agreement with the next administration,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying by Haaretz.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Monday that the security package will likely be complete “in the coming weeks.” Netanyahu is expected to travel to the U.S. next month to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference. It remains unclear whether he will meet with President Obama to finalize the details and sign the decade-long agreement.

“Israel’s security comes first and foremost. President Obama has, I think, unprecedentedly addressed those concerns with the Iron Dome, with assistance, with our efforts on global institutions to not see Israel singled out, and we will continue to do what is necessary to provide Israel with all the assistance necessary so it can provide for its own security,” Kerry said.

During the hearing, Kerry reiterated the administration’s opposition to BDS activities against Israel.

What Obama did and didn’t say about Ezra Schwartz


How the Obama administration has handled last week’s murder in the West Bank of Ezra Schwartz, an 18-year-old from Sharon, Massachusetts, on his gap year in Israel, has raised painful questions among Jewish Americans upset by his senseless death.

“Obama Silent on Killing of American in Israel: Orthodox Jews Demand Answers” is the subject line of a pitch in my inbox from a publicist acting on behalf of the Orthodox Union.

That email is typical of much of what I see on my social media feeds, coming from across the political spectrum: Allison Kaplan Sommer raised questions about President Barack Obama’s response to Schwartz’s murder in the liberal Israeli daily, Haaretz.

In fact, Obama, or at least his administration, has not been silent. But how the administration has handled the murder of Schwartz, who was killed along with two other men by Palestinian terrorists, raises legitimate questions.

As happens so often in the Israel-Obama-Netanyahu relationship, fraught with emotion and expectations, some of the questions being asked are weirdly beside the point. They serve to obscure and distract from real questions about discrepancies between the Obama administration’s response to this attack compared to its response to similar acts around the world.

What’s beside the point

Timing: The attack that killed Schwartz occurred mid-morning Thursday Washington, D.C., time, and the teenager’s identity was confirmed mid-afternoon. The Obama administration’s condemnation, emailed to reporters and announced by State Department Deputy Spokesman John Kirby, came mid-afternoon Friday.

There was considerable consternation about the perceived delay (although Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, condemned it almost immediately.) Just minutes before Kirby announced the condemnation, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations sent out a release: “We are deeply disappointed that the United States government has not issued a statement despite the death of an American citizen.”

On Tuesday, Nathan Diament, the OU’s Washington director, said in an e-mailed statement: “It seemed that neither the president nor his senior aides appreciate how devastating this particular attack was to the American Jewish community – and their slow, and still insufficient, response proves that.”

Yet, the delay is par for the course for administration statements, which are subject to a round robin of reviews by various bureaus and bureaucrats. Anything happening past early morning (9-9:30 a.m.) one day won’t get the statement treatment until the next afternoon, during the briefing, according to former State Department officials I’ve spoken with.

(There are exceptions, such as mass-casualty terrorist attacks – those in Paris and Mali earned immediate comment. But the consternation in this case has been less about how the administration has treated the attack, which was not on the scale of Mali or Paris, than about how it has treated Schwartz’s death.)

“A statement was made at the usual time for making comments or answering questions,” Mike Kraft, a former official with the State Department’s counterterrorism bureau, told me, repeating remarks he had posted on Facebook. “The pronouncements are originally drafted in one bureau or another and then have to be cleared with other parts of the department that are involved, such as the counterterrorism bureau, and the intelligence bureau.”

Consider the Nov. 13 Paris attacks: The revelation that American Nohemi Gonzalez was among the 129 people killed by terrorists came on Saturday evening, according to the CNN alert that popped into my inbox. The administration’s response, by John Kerry, the secretary of state, at a lighting ceremony at the Paris embassy, came almost two days later, on Monday afternoon, D.C. time.

Anita Datar, among at least 19 murdered Nov. 20 in Bamako, Mali, was mentioned, but not by name, by Susan Rice, the national security adviser in a tweet almost a day after the attack and by name on Nov. 22 by Obama in a press conference in Malaysia.

Tone: Sommer in Haaretz and Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum of Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst in an openletter posted online by the OU were appalled by Kirby’s rushed reading of the condemnation.

“It is disturbingly shameful in its perfunctory tone and tenor,” Teitelbaum wrote.

Again, this kind of toneless reading is par for the course for administration briefings. Review the firstbriefing after the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, on Nov. 16: State Department Spokesman Mark Toner referred to the “terrible attacks of Friday night” and the “terrible tragedy” like he reading a menu at a Chinese restaurant.

Briefings are not for emoting, they’re a jousting match between reporters and the modern-day gladiators that are government spokespeople. Toner started the briefing – remember, the first after one of the worst attacks in postwar French history – by joking with visiting student reporters at the back of the room. “These are the people you aspire to be like someday,” Toner told the students, referring to his adversaries among the press corps.

What’s to the point

The bearer: Kirby’s toneless delivery is certainly par for the course, but that’s exactly why he – or any spokesperson – might have been the wrong choice to make the statement about Schwartz’s murder. The delay in first mentioning him was shorter than the delay before mentioning Gonzalez or Datar. But Kerry and Obama made those respective announcements, and they have the status (and know-how) to give condolences genuine feeling.

Kerry, notably, twice mentioned Schwartz in moving terms on Tuesday, during an official Israel visit, and Obama and Kerry on Monday both spoke with Schwartz’s parents.

Kerry, speaking during his meeting with Israeli President Reueven Rivlin, attached poignant significance to Schwartz’s mission when he was killed, delivering snacks to soldiers, and the former Massachusetts senator claimed Schwartz as a native son.

“When citizens can be murdered like Ezra Schwartz, my citizen of Massachusetts, driving in a car on a mission to learn and to share, and when other citizens can be gunned down, and a soldier yesterday, in a marketplace in Jerusalem, this is a challenge to all civilized people.”

What went unsaid: The original statement, delivered by Kirby was:

“We continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms these outrageous terrorist attacks. These tragic incidents underscore the importance of taking affirmative steps to restore calm, reduce tensions and bring an immediate end to the violence.”

Why was there no similar prescription for the violence in Paris and Bamako? Why was the implication that it is incumbent on all parties — including Israel — to prevent the violence that killed Schwartz?

It’s an implication that may explain Obama’s decision in his Nov. 22 press conference in Malaysia to mention Gonzalez and Datar – but not Schwartz, as Sommer points out.

Here are Obama’s remarks from that press conference:

“Today, families in too many nations are grieving the senseless loss of their loved ones in the attacks in France and in Mali. As Americans, we remember Nohemi Gonzalez, who was just 23 years old, a design major from California State University. She was in Paris to pursue her dream of designing innovations that would improve the lives of people around the world. And we remember Anita Datar of Maryland. She’s a veteran of the Peace Corps, a mother to her young son, who devoted her life to helping the world’s poor, including women and girls in Mali, lift themselves up with health and education.

“Nohemi and Anita embodied the values of service and compassion that no terrorist can extinguish. Their legacy will endure in the family and friends who carry on their work. They remind me of my daughters, or my mother, who, on the one hand, had their whole life ahead of them, and on the other hand, had devoted their lives to helping other people. And it is worth us remembering when we look at the statistics that there are beautiful, wonderful lives behind the terrible death tolls that we see in these places.”

The word “senseless” stands out; wasn’t Schwartz’s murder senseless?

Obama, perhaps inadvertently, in his joint press conference Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande, got at some of the distinctions between the attacks in Mali and France, and the one in Gush Etzion, saying:

“It’s been noted that the terrorists did not direct their attacks against the French government or military. Rather, they focused their violence on the very spirit of France — and by extension, on all liberal democracies. This was an attack on our free and open societies — where people come together to celebrate and sing and compete. In targeting venues where people come together from around the world — killing citizens of nearly 20 countries, including America — this was an attack on the very idea that people of different races and religions and backgrounds can live together in peace.”

Was the attack that killed Ezra Schwartz not “on the very idea that people of different races and religions and backgrounds can live together in peace?”

That’s a hard question, both for the Obama administration, and for those Jewish Americans wounded by the distinctions the Obama administration appears to be making. It’s one that deserves answering, not in hints, feints and wounded entreaties, but in open dialogue.

Israel faces potential challenge from Russia over Syria


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Periodically throughout the four and half years of the Syrian civil war weapon shipments destined for Hezbollah were intercepted and decimated by airstrikes inside Syria. In each instance Israel, whose air force has enjoyed unrivalled dominance of the airspace around the Jewish state’s borders, was believed responsible. But with the deployment of Russian combat aircraft to bases in Syria several weeks ago this hegemony may have ended.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Moscow underscores Israel’s uncertainty over the future in Syria. Israeli officials worry that, inadvertently or otherwise, Russian fighter jets and air defense systems may act as a screen for Hezbollah to move new arms convoys into Syria.

Several days ago Israeli artillery units fired on Syrian army positions in response to errant shells crossing the border. This represented the first time Israel has attacked Syria since Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed troops and jets into the country. Yet the incidents took place in the Golan Heights, far south of any Russian units which are stationed on the coast.

“The most immediate issue is one of having Israeli flights over Syrian territory (and) ensuring that Russia flights won’t have any confusion or accidental fire incidents (with them),” Yezid Sayigh, a Senior Associate with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told The Media Line. But, he added, “This doesn’t need Netanyahu to visit Moscow.” In a similar manner to back channel communications between the US and Syria, Israel and Russia could have cooperated quietly to ensure that both states air forces operated in the same airspace without coming into conflict. A high level visit by Netanyahu demonstrates a deeper agenda, Sayigh said.

“(Its) more a question of working out how far will Russia go in protecting the regime (of President Bashar Al-Assad) – air defenses, new high tech combat aircraft,” Sayigh explained. Of chief concern to Israel would be the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to the Syrian military, something Russia has repeatedly said it will do, Sayigh said. The Russian built anti-aircraft system is capable of targeting planes and cruise missiles and is considered one of the most capable air defense systems in the world. The Israeli government has stated in the past that it would not accept the S-300 being transferred to the Syrian army.

Although Israel has not actively sought to undermine the Assad regime during the ongoing conflict the two countries are still technically at war. Israelis debate whether Assad’s fall or his survival is better for Israel. Russia, on the other hand, has stated that it will work to ensure Assad remains in power, with Putin declaring that supporting the regime is the most effective way to both fight Islamic State and end violence in the region.

A possibility exists that Russian and Israeli jets could come into conflict over Syrian skies but such a scenario is highly unlikely, Zvi Magen, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line. “Russia is not fighting on the ground and in the air there is enough technical solutions (to ensure an accidental clash would not occur),” Magen said.

On the issue of Hizbullah, Israel retains the right to strike at weapon shipments and this will be understood and accepted by Russia, Magen said. “Russia is not looking for war,” and understands that Israel has certain requirements, the researcher explained. But this is not a disadvantage for Hizbullah however. “It’s good for them because they are part of this coalition – Russia, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah,” Magen concluded.

Israel’s freedom of action over Syria could be curtailed by the Russian deployment, Raymond Hinnebusch, the director of the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St. Andrews, told The Media Line. “To the extent a Russian air defense umbrella reaches outward from their base in the coastal areas… this would potentially limit Israeli options,” the professor said.

The boost to the beleaguered Syrian regime that Putin’s actions represent could have far reaching implications for the whole of the region if they are enough to ensure Assad’s survival. This could alter Israel’s view of the near future and reverse assessments previously made by Israeli intelligence chiefs that Assad’s demise was inevitable.

“The main strategic change is… that the Russian presence will tend to push back against those pressuring for turning the US/Western airstrikes from (targeting) ISIS to hitting Assad,” Hinnebusch said.

Putin is “hoisting the Americans on their own petard,” by lauding the US sentiment that all states must work together to combat ISIS and then including Syria in this equation, Yezid Sayigh argued. Effectively, the Russians have created a “back window” for Assad to survive by, he suggested.

Why we lost the debate to kill the Iran deal, and how we could ultimately win


Early on in February of this year, as the President and his Secretary of State were starting to leak information on the  negotiations around the proposed deal with Iran, the world looked on and assumed like so many attempts before it, the prospects of success where slim – they would fail.  But the Israeli government took them seriously, they went into high gear, sending out messages through government operatives, generals and eventually the Prime Minister. This culminated in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s grand performance before congress. 

Mistake number #1.  No sitting president wants to be upstaged, nor embarrassed.   And no Democratic member of congress wanted to be part of a political maneuver that was staged not just by the Republican majority, but was blatantly used to manipulate the elections in Israel.  With that move, so began the slippery slope of alienating the key members of congress, the key democratic constituencies that could have turned the tide and killed what is arguably a “poor deal with Iran”.   

Then after the Netanyahu grandstanding, negotiations began to heat up as deadlines approached.  And Israel turned up the heat with its propaganda machine.  Leaking information on the Iranian nuclear program, placing editorials in newspapers, sending operatives from the Israeli lobby in the U.S. to media and events like congressional hearings. 

Mistake number #2 – Its not all about Israel — Its about the spread of terrorism and the importance of keeping sanctions.   As the elements of the deal leaked out in earnest in late April early May, the Israeli lobby began to attack the deal without any substance.  “We know this will be a bad deal for Israel.” stated a email from AIPAC.  “We cannot trust the Iranian's to keep their word” stated another one.  

Mistake number #3  While the Israeli lobby did the inside the beltway dance and shuffle, all the while the President and his people were out working the world stage putting pressure on our strongest allies to support a deal that they themselves had concerns about.  And setting in place U.S. based support with key Democratic constituencies.

Next up, the deal is getting done, the Iranians were close to walking away according to sources in the talks.  They did not want an extension.  We could have killed the deal right then and there.  But instead pro-Israel forces and members of the Israeli government chose a different path.  They focused their efforts on stirring up their base, sending out fundraising letters and attacking the wrong folks – the important Democrats that they were going to need in the coming months. 

Mistake number #4.  While the pro-Israel forces focused on attacking Democrats and let their Republican allies carry the message, the President and Secretary of State John Kerry were traveling the world, further pushing our allies into supporting the deal, and meeting regularly with the Democratic leadership to prepare for the eventual rollout of a flawed deal.  They knew it was flawed, yet they continued to think as they do today that this is the best deal we can get. 

Mistake number #5.  Already behind the eight-ball only weeks before the final announcement of the deal, finally the pro-Israel lobby meets in secret meetings in DC to plan what to do about a deal.    What do they do – they hire a Republican PR firm and Republican operatives to oversee the campaign, while leaking their strategy to the conservative media.   Not a great strategy, when you have to convince 30+ Democratic House members and a dozen or more Democratic Senators to oppose a flawed deal.   And in a typical inside baseball strategy they start running ads in national publications and doing TV advertising to an audience that has not been contacted in months as to their position, and has little connection to what is now become a partisan battle. 

Mistake number #6.  Panicked and playing catch up, they put into place a last minute attempt to lobby members of congress during the recess.  The big problem —  they have no base of support, the constituents that would make the most impact to members are already either neutral or are not going to go up against the President.  Having been worked for months by the administration, the supporters have convincingly framed the debate, and the Israeli government having counted the votes now knows they need to be careful for fear of a increased Obama backlash. 

Is it too late?

So where are we today, the pro-Israel groups for the last 40 days have been desperately trying to work constituencies that have no skin in the game, and are more concerned about the last two years of an Obama presidency and important members of Congress that will be critical to their issues in the coming years.  Throw on top of this members being lobbied by the leadership to tow the line or else they may end up in the smallest office, working on the subcommittee on Post Office operations. 

And so we have a misguided plan, late execution, a lost moral high ground, and many pro-Israel supporters like myself left confused and disappointed.

So can we win this? Probably not.  But we could inflict enough damage and pain that the administration and the world will listen- – implementation is still yet to be determined.    How can we achieve this.  We need to enlist the Obama coalition – go grassroots, and capture the debate by shifting the narrative away from Israel and back to terrorism and protecting the Homeland. 

We cannot re-write the history of the last 6 months.  We cannot undo the Netanyahu speech, or even bring together members of the Democratic caucus to rally behind their most trusted allies – the Jewish community.  Nor can you take back the millions wasted on national media campaigns and robo calls to staff members who have more to loose in bucking the leadership.  

Opportunity number #1.  What we could do and what we should have done is to reach out to the traditional Democratic base, the coalitions of minorities, women and seniors, labor and others that have stood side by side with the American Jewish community for decades.  Fighting for human rights, civil rights and personal freedoms.   We should have utilized this most powerful of coalitions to push back on our friends in the Democratic establishment to support what is right and what is important.   There is nothing more persuasive than a local constituent or large contributor calling or writing a member of congress to say.  “Please think before you cast this vote….”   Staff members catch on when calls come in from individuals that don't even know whom they are talking to – pushed through by eager political operatives that are making big bucks, while the President and his team count favorable votes.

Over and over again, our community falls into the same trap.  We take for granted that the communities we have been so closely aligned with, will be there when we need them. 

Opportunity number #2. So moving forward as a community, lets cast off the traditional playbook, put energy into local third-party Democratic and independent groups and focus on the importance of protecting the USA.    We as a Jewish community need to dig deep into our strong alliances with groups that have for decades relied on our support to achieve personal justice – we need them now, and they should be with us.  We need to ask them to reach key Democratic leaders and tell them its important that this deal not be implemented without the support of the community it will impact.  

That is where we should be, that is where we need to be – unfortunately, we are weeks away from approval of this deal, while continuing to  watch ads that point fingers and talk down to the same people that we need to support us.

What America will offer Israel after the nuclear deal


The moment the Iran nuclear deal becomes law, as seems increasingly likely given growing congressional support for the agreement, the focus of the U.S.-Israel conversation will shift to the question of what’s next.

What more will Washington do to mitigate the Iranian threat and reassure Israel and other regional allies?

For starters, President Barack Obama seems ready to offer an array of security enhancements. Among them are accelerating and increasing defense assistance to Israel over the next decade; increasing the U.S. military presence in the Middle East; stepping up the enforcement of non-nuclear related Iran sanctions; enhancing U.S. interdiction against disruptive Iranian activity in the region; and increasing cooperation on missile defense.There also will be an emphasis on keeping any of the tens of billions of dollars to which Iran will gain unfettered access through the sanctions relief from reaching Iran’s proxies.

Adam Szubin, the U.S. Treasury undersecretary charged with enforcing sanctions, made targeting Hezbollah a focus of his meetings with Israeli officials last week, JTA has learned.

Once some nuclear-related sanctions on Iran are lifted – should Iran meet the requirements in the deal on nuclear restrictions – Washington will allocate greater resources to focusing on other sanctions unaffected by the agreement, including those related to backing terrorism, a senior U.S. official told JTA.

“We have a lot of that same personnel and resources we can devote to U.S.-specific sanctions on Iran – and not only Iran,” the official said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not wanting to be seen as endorsing the deal while there’s still a chance Congress could scuttle it, has directed Israeli officials not to engage with U.S. officials on what could be done after the deal is in place. The Israeli envoy to Washington, Ron Dermer, has said that Israel would be ready for discussions only after options to kill the agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are exhausted.

“We appreciate the support that we have gotten from this administration, from this president, to enhance our security,” Dermer told USA Today in a July 27 interview. “And the discussion that we’ll have about the day after, we’ll have to leave to the day after.”

Congress has until Sept. 17 to decide whether to allow the deal to proceed.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is leading the opposition to the deal, argued in a memo distributed Monday that U.S. pledges of post-deal security enhancements are inadequate.

“The administration has tried to reassure those concerned by the dangerous consequences of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in two ways: by pledging increased support for Israel and our Gulf allies and by vowing that it will strictly enforce the deal,” said the memo, which is headlined “Promises Cannot Fix a Bad Deal.” “Neither approach will repair the deal’s fatal flaw: it legitimizes Iran as a nuclear-threshold state in 15 years.”

Obama in an interview Monday with the Forward attached urgency to confronting Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies.

Speaking of Israel, he said, “We can do even more to enhance the unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation that we have with them, and to see, are there additional capabilities that Israel may be able to use to prevent Hezbollah, for example, from getting missiles.”

The emphasis on Hezbollah was appropriate, said Uzi Arad, Netanyahu’s national security adviser from 2009 to 2011.

“The president on sensing a degree of urgency with Hezbollah sooner rather than later is absolutely right,” Arad said, noting the group’s role as an Iranian proxy in helping prop up the Assad regime in Syria. “It relates to the need to uproot and to neutralize the violent and anti-American and anti-Israel radical group. It is a matter of urgent joint concern.”

Arad outlined a number of areas that would enhance Israel’s sense of security in a post-deal environment, including:

* Maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, even as the United States enhances the military capabilities of Arab Persian Gulf allies that, similar to Israel, will be seeking reassurances in the wake of the Iran deal;

* Enhancing joint missile defense programs;

* Extending the defense assistance memorandum of understanding, which since 2008 has provided Israel with an average of $3 billion in defense assistance per year, for another 10 years (it’s set to expire in 2018), and delivering promised F-35 advanced fighter aircraft to Israel;

* Enhancing joint civilian scientific research and development;

* Delivering advanced bunker-buster bombs to maintain Israel’s deterrent edge should Iran cheat on or abandon the deal. “Israel should be given this special kind of ordnance so it could have a more effective military option in case of Iranian violations of the agreement,” Arad said, arguing that this would strengthen the agreement by creating a disincentive for Iran to cheat.

*A “declaratory” component emphasizing U.S. longstanding commitments to Israel.

* Making clear that the U.S. effort to stop the expansion of Islamist terrorism and extremism targets Iranian activities as well as those associated with the Islamic State terrorist group.

Obama touched on many of these issues in a letter he sent to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., on Aug. 19.

“It is imperative that, even as we effectively cut off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon through the implementation of the JCPOA, we take steps to ensure that we and our allies and our partners are more capable than ever to deal with Iran’s destabilizing activities and support for terrorism,” Obama said in the letter, which was first obtained by The New York Times.

The president specified four areas where cooperation would be enhanced: extending defense assistance for a decade, joint missile defense research, joint efforts to improve tunnel detection (following the advances made by Hamas in its 2014 war with Israel), and “strengthening our efforts to confront conventional and asymmetric threats.”

The letter persuaded Nadler to back the deal and should be a salve to Israeli security officials, said Dan Arbell, a former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Washington.

“If I were an Israeli bureaucrat right now in any of the related areas working around this, what the president provides in his letter is a pretty thorough list, which I think the Israeli defense establishment would be happy with,” said Arbell, who now lectures at American University.

Persian Gulf allies would want the reassurances that Israel is receiving as well as specific assurances of assistance in keeping Iran from meddling in Arab affairs, said Michael Eisenstadt, a longtime officer in the U.S. Army Reserve who served in the Middle East.

Even with such assurances, Eisenstadt said, Gulf allies would remain concerned that the deal enhances Iran’s stature.

“Weapons are Band-Aids on a hemorrhage,” said Eisenstadt, now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “From the point of view of our allies in the region, we’ve contributed to a lot of the problem” by advancing the Iran deal.

Obama in landmark interview: Hezbollah will be a focus of post-Iran deal


A focus of security enhancement once the Iran nuclear deal goes through will be neutralizing Hezbollah’s threat to Israel, President Barack Obama said in a landmark interview with The Forward.

“As soon as this debate is over, we will, I think, be able to invigorate what has been an ongoing conversation with the Israelis about how we can do even more to enhance the unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation that we have with them, and to see, are there additional capabilities that Israel may be able to use to prevent Hezbollah, for example, from getting missiles,” Obama said in the interview published Monday — the first with the Jewish media since he became president.

“Where Iran has been effective in its destabilizing activities, it’s not because it’s had a lot of money,” Obama said, countering criticism that the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal that will unfreeze $50 billion in funds will increase Iran’s capacity for disruption.

“It’s because they’ve effectively used proxies; it’s because they’ve invested in places like Lebanon for decades and become entrenched,” the president said. “And the reason we haven’t done a better job of stopping that is not because they’re outspending us. The reason is, is because we haven’t been as coordinated, had as good intelligence and been as systematic in pushing back as we need to be.”

Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based militia, has stockpiled tens of thousands of missiles on Lebanese territory since its 2006 war with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vigorously opposes the Iran nuclear deal, has rejected Obama administration efforts to coordinate post-deal defense strategies regarding Iran, preferring to wait until he is certain that Congress will not reject the deal.

Republicans mostly oppose the deal, so there has been a concerted effort by both sides to win over Democrats, in part by appeals to the Jewish community, a key constituency of the party. Congress has until late September to consider whether to reject the deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers.

Obama spoke on Friday, the same day he gave the Forward the interview, to a webcast jointly sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“This deal blocks every way, every pathway Iran might take to obtain a nuclear weapon,” said Obama during the 50-minute webcast, which was filmed live from the White House. “We’re not giving away anything in this deal in terms of our capacity to respond if they chose to cheat.”

In additions to concerns about how Iran will spend its unfrozen funds, Netanyahu and other opponents, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, say the expiration dates for some of the deal’s components, in 10, 15 and 25 years, will leave Iran a nuclear threshold state.

In his Forward interview, Obama said that tensions between the Israeli and U.S. governments surrounding the deal would not last.

“People will look back and say as long as we implemented it with care and precision that it was the right thing to do,” he said. “The one thing I do want to make sure is that your readers and everybody who cares about the U.S.-Israeli relationship retain the understanding that I think is one of the foundations of this relationship, which is, is that this is not a partisan issue; the bipartisan support of Israel is critical to a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship.”

Trump: Obama, Kerry ‘sold out’ Israel on Iran


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry hurt Israel through the recent agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

“Israel was sold out by Kerry and Obama,” Trump said at an Iowa campaign event Saturday, according to The Jerusalem Post. “You cannot let Iran have a nuclear weapon. You can’t have it. When they march down the street saying ‘Death to Israel. Death to the United States.’ You can’t let that happen.”

Trump seemed to imply that he would take a tougher stance on Iran, pointing to himself and saying, “Believe me, it will not happen here.”

The billionaire real estate mogul is a vocal supporter of Israel and a harsh critic of Obama’s policy toward Israel. In a February interview, Trump said Obama “is the worst enemy of Israel.”

AIPAC: Obama administration peddling ‘inaccuracies’ about lobby


AIPAC said the Obama administration is peddling inaccuracies about the pro-Israel lobby’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

AIPAC President Robert Cohen emailed the organization’s activists on Monday, linking to a New York Times article published last week about tensions arising between the lobby and the administration, and said it reflects “multiple inaccuracies stemming from claims by the administration.”

AIPAC’s facts, Cohen said “are well-substantiated and accurate.” President Barack Obama has said that opponents to the deal have peddled arguments distorting or omitting elements of the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers.

An AIPAC affiliate, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, has run a TV ad addressing the substance of the deal.

“This ad does not single out the president in any way,” Cohen said. According to the Times article, Obama in a meeting last week with Jewish leaders conflated the CNFI ad with others attacking Obama personally.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee treated administration speakers who addressed about 700 activists who flew in last month to lobby against the deal “with courtesy and respect,” Cohen said. Administration officials have said that the speakers, among them top negotiators on the deal, were not permitted to take questions. AIPAC said the officials were free to use the 30 minutes allocated them as they pleased.

Cohen noted that AIPAC took no position on the Iraq War. Obama has said that some of the opponents of the Iran nuclear deal backed that conflict, but has been careful to distinguish these from those who oppose the deal out of concern for Israel. Some defenders of the deal have made the link between AIPAC and the Iraq War on social media.

Congress has until mid-to-late September to consider whether or not to reject the deal.

Huckabee tweets that Obama is marching Israelis ‘to the door of the oven’


Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee cited threats from Israel’s enemies in his continued assault on the Iran nuclear deal.

A series of Twitter posts on Sunday night followed a day after Huckabee said that President Barack Obama will march Israelis “to the door of the oven.”

Bolstering his argument of the potential harm the agreement signed by Iran and world powers earlier this month would do to Israel, Huckabee tweeted quotes from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, among others.“It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region,” read one of the posts attributed to Khamenei.

A quote attributed to Nasrallah read: “If they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

Huckabee also said in a tweet, “Tell Congress to do their constitutional duty & reject the Obama-Kerry #IranDeal.”

In an interview Saturday with Breitbart News, Huckabee evoked Holocaust images of the ovens used to dispose of the bodies of Jews gassed in Nazi concentration camps.

“This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history,” the former Arkansas governor said. “It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Obama criticized Huckabee’s comments on Monday while on a visit to Ethiopia, saying they are “part of just a general pattern that we’ve seen would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad.” The president added that Huckabee was making an “effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines,” referring to another Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, called Huckabee’s comments “completely out of line and unacceptable.”

“To hear Mr. Huckabee invoke the Holocaust when America is Israel’s greatest ally and when Israel is a strong nation capable of defending itself is disheartening,” Greenblatt said. “The great tragedy of the Holocaust saw the Jews of Europe without allies and without power at the worst possible moment.”

The Democratic National Committee took issue with what it called Huckabee’s “cavalier” analogy to the Holocaust, saying such rhetoric “has no place in American politics.” Its chair, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, in a statement issued Sunday called on Huckabee to apologize to the Jewish community and the American people.

Israel likely to turn to congress to fight Iranian nuclear deal


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

There’s a joke making the Facebook rounds of Israelis.

“Knock knock”

“Who’s there?”

“A nuclear Iran.”

“A nuclear Iran, who?”

“BOOM.”

The joke shows the deep skepticism most Israelis have, from officials down to the man in the street, that the Iran deal signed today will put an end to Iran’s nuclear program and make Israel safer. The deep skepticism is being expressed almost across the board in Israel, in a rare moment of political unity and support for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“This agreement is about Iran making a bomb within 15 years,” General Yakov Amidror, a former national security advisor to Netanyahu told The Media Line. “This is a threat to our existence and we will do whatever is needed. It’s become clear that we cannot build on the Americans, and Israel has to do it by itself.”

At the same time, most analysts said that an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, which had been discussed in the past, is unlikely now. It would leave Israel a pariah in the international community.

The rift between the US and Israel has never seemed larger than this moment, after President Obama said the deal “prevents the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.” President Obama also pledged to veto any Congressional attempt to stop the deal.

Netanyahu, on his part, has already said that he will turn to Congress which now has 60 days to approve the deal. Israel remains skeptical about one of the crucial parts of the deal, the mechanism for inspection to ensure Iranian compliance with the deal.

“What will happen is that the inspectors will be able to visit only places declared by the Iranians or based on information they receive from intelligence,” Amidror said. “But there will be far less intelligence because you don’t spy on a state you have an agreement with the same way you do with one that is an enemy.”

Netanyahu was even more blunt at a meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders in Jerusalem.

“Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons. Many of the restrictions that were supposed to prevent it from getting there will be lifted,” Netanyahu said. “Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region and in the world. This is a mistake of historic proportions.”

Yisrael Beytenu Chairman and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman went even further, calling it a danger for the future. “History will remember the Iran deal just like the Munich Agreement (with Nazi Germany) and the agreement with North Korea,” said Lieberman. 

Iran portrayed the deal as a clear victory. In a speech to the citizens of Iran President Hassan Rouhani said, “We didn't ask for charity. We asked for fair, just, and win-win negotiations.” He added a request to the world “not to believe the Israeli propaganda and mocked the failure of the “warmongering Zionist regime.” 

Israeli experts say they are disturbed that Iran will maintain its nuclear infrastructure, and be allowed to continue to enrich uranium. They do not believe that inspection experts will be able to visit any site at any time. They reject Iran’s claim that the nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and say that the international community has in effect legalized the Iranian bomb.

“Iran has a lot of experience with cheating and the deal is very complicated,” Eldad Pardo, an expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem told The Media Line.

He also said that Iran, which has been suffering from a deep financial crisis brought on by international sanctions, will now be flooded with money, which it could use to further support its proxies in the Middle East, including the Islamist Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Hamas, especially, has been facing financial difficulties due to Egypt’s crackdown on smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Gaza.

But some Middle East analysts said that even with the threat of more money flowing to terrorist organizations, the Iran nuclear deal could be good for the region.

“It is hard to see how the region would be better off without a deal,” Jane Kinnimont, a senior research fellow on the Middle East program at Chatham House told The Media Line. “We’ve spent most of the past decade debating various options for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. If it is possible to manage this issue through diplomacy, it’s clearly far better than any other option.”

Netanyahu, Obama have contentious conversation about Iran deal


President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister had a contentious phone call after the major powers achieved a deal with Iran.

Netanyahu in a statement said he raising two objections in the phone call.

“One, the agreement allows Iran to develop extensive capabilities that will serve it in arming itself with nuclear weapons whether at the end of the period of the agreement in another 10-15 years, or earlier if it violates the agreement,” the statement said.“Two, the agreement channels hundreds of billions of dollars to Iran’s terrorism and war machine, a war that is directed against us and against others in the region,” it said.

Netanyahu’s statement also twice said that the desire by the major powers to get to an agreement was “stronger than anything else,” although it did not say whether Netanyahu made this accusation directly to Obama in their conversation.

The White House also released an account of the phone call. It said Obama told Netanyahu the deal would “verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon while ensuring the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward.”

He also told Netanyahu the U.S. defense secretary, Ashton Carter, would visit Israel next week.

The visit, the White House statement said, “is a reflection of the unprecedented level of security cooperation between the United States and Israel, and that the visit offers a further opportunity to continue our close consultation on security issues with Israeli counterparts as we remain vigilant in countering the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities in the region.”

Obama cites Israel in arguing for gun control


President Barack Obama compared Israel favorably to the United States in making a point about gun violence.

“Here are the stats: Per population, we kill each other with guns at a rate 297x more than Japan, 49x more than France, 33x more than Israel,” Obama said Sunday on a Twitter account that the White House says he personally authors.

“Expressions of sympathy aren’t enough.” he said. “It’s time we do something about this.”

Obama’s tweets referred to the shooting deaths Wednesday of nine congregants in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. An alleged white supremacist is being held in the shootings.

Obama has made efforts to strengthen gun control a hallmark of his presidency.

Handgun ownership in Israel is subject to stringent restrictions.

Is Oren’s call for ‘no surprises’ in U.S.-Israel ties possible?


Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, caused a stir this week by publicly accusing President Barack Obama of abandoning the two core principles that undergird the U.S.-Israel relationship: no public disagreements and no surprises.

But should there be no public disagreements – “no daylight,” in diplomatic parlance – between the United States and Israel, and is that kind of shoulder-to-shoulder closeness even possible between allies?

Oren, the American-born diplomat who served as Israel’s ambassador in Washington from 2009 to 2013 and is now a Knesset member in Israel’s center-right Kulanu party, outlined his argument in an Op-Edpiece in The Wall Street Journal. The piece appeared the same week as the launch of Oren’s new book, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.”

“Immediately after his first inauguration, Mr. Obama put daylight between Israel and America,” Oren wrote in the Op-Ed.

“With the Middle East unraveling and dependable allies a rarity, the U.S. and Israel must restore the ‘no daylight’ and ‘no surprises’ principles,” Oren wrote. “Israel has no alternative to America as a source of security aid, diplomatic backing and overwhelming popular support. The U.S. has no substitute for the state that, though small, remains democratic, militarily and technologically robust, strategically located and unreservedly pro-American.”

David Makovsky, a member of the U.S. State Department team that last year attempted to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, said open disagreements and mutual surprises have characterized the relationship for decades.

He mentioned events starting from President Dwight Eisenhower’s threats to isolate Israel during the Suez war in 1956 through President George W. Bush’s endorsement in 2002 of Palestinian statehood, which caught Israelis by surprise. Makovsky also noted Israeli decisions that caught Americans off guard, such as the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and Israel’s entry into Beirut during the 1982 Lebanon War.

“Aspirationally, there should be no surprises,” said Makovsky, who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, a think tank regarded to have close ties to the U.S. and Israeli governments. “In all candor, this is not always the case on either side.”

While it’s true that disagreements long have characterized U.S.-Israel ties, Obama was the first president to make a policy of “daylight,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies whose expertise includes the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

“This is the first time that this has been a systematic approach to Israel,” Schanzer said, noting the report cited by Oren that Obama in July 2009 told Jewish leaders he believed the policy of no daylight was contrary to American and Israeli interests and to advancing the peace process.

“When tensions came up in the past, the approach was to try to downplay it,” said Schanzer, who monitored terrorist financing at the U.S. Treasury during the George W. Bush administration. “Over the last six years, when there has been a disagreement, this administration has doubled down on the conflict that existed and used those disagreements for political gain.”

Ilan Goldenberg, the chief of staff for the U.S. Middle East peace team until last year, said Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have made their grievances public.

He noted Netanyahu’s strategy of public lobbying against the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and the major powers. Obama favors the deal, and his administration officials have urged Netanyahu to make his disagreements known in a private setting.

“Obama has been willing to express disagreement more than previous presidents,” said Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East program at the Center for a New American Security. “But the big violator of no daylight now is Netanyahu, much more than Obama, even as Obama tries to reach out.”

Goldenberg also took issue with some of Oren’s examples. Oren wrote that Obama abrogated the “no surprises” principle “in his first meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, in May 2009, by abruptly demanding a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the two-state solution.”

Those positions should not have taken Netanyahu by surprise, Goldenberg said: Two states had been a principle since the Clinton presidency, and freezes on settlement growth were the policies of U.S. administrations since almost immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel captured disputed territories.

“Saying ‘two states and 1967 lines with land swaps’ was unprecedented was dubious given 242 and the Clinton parameters,” Goldenberg said, referring to the 1967 U.N. Security Council resolution that called for Israel’s withdrawal from territories captured during the war.

Heather Hurlburt, a director at the liberal New America think tank, said she was taken aback by Oren’s insistence in the Op-Ed that Netanyahu’s offenses, including announcements of settlement building, were missteps, while Obama’s offenses were deliberate.

“Everything the Israeli side did that was damaging was accidental, but everything the Obama side did was a personal decision of Obama?” she asked incredulously.

The penning of such an Op-Ed by a recent ambassador suggests deeper problems in the U.S.-relationship, Hurlburt said.

“If that’s how he perceived it” when Oren was an ambassador, “it’s an enormous problem,” Hurlburt said. “This is recriminating over who hurt the other person more in the relationship. It’s embarrassing. When you get to that point in a relationship, you’re usually done.”

U.S. denies Israeli report on Obama inviting Netanyahu to meet


The White House denied an Israeli newspaper report on Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet in Washington next month.

Citing unnamed U.S. State Department sources, Yedioth Ahronoth daily said the two leaders could meet in the White House on July 15 or 16, after the June 30 deadline for an Iranian nuclear deal over which they have frequently clashed.

Since Netanyahu's election to a fourth term on March 17, U.S. and Israeli officials have said they expected he would meet Obama again. But no date has been set, and a White House official denied Netanyahu had received any U.S. invitation.

“No invitation has been extended, though certainly we’d expect that there will be occasion for the two leaders to meet in Washington at some point going forward,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in response to Yedioth's report.

A spokesman for Netanyahu's office had no immediate official comment on the report. Israeli officials speaking on condition of anonymity, however, told reporters that no such invitation had been received.

Netanyahu has criticized the emerging nuclear deal, which Israel fears will allow Iran the means of making a bomb, while also granting it sanctions relief that could help bankroll its militant allies in the region.

Iran says its nuclear projects are peaceful.

Michael Oren: Obama abandoned ‘two core principles’ of U.S.-Israel alliance


Israel’s former ambassador to Washington accused President Barack Obama of abandoning “core principles” of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Michael Oren in an Op-Ed appearing Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal said Obama abandoned the principle of keeping disagreements private and  of “no surprises” between the countries.

Oren, who served as ambassador from 2009 to 2013, faulted the Israeli government for announcing settlement building at inopportune times, but said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not personally responsible for the missteps.

“But Mr. Obama posed an even more fundamental challenge by abandoning the two core principles of Israel’s alliance with America,” Oren wrote, adding that Obama was not anti-Israel and bolstered the security relationship.

“Immediately after his first inauguration, Mr. Obama put daylight between Israel and America,” Oren said, referring to a July 2009 meeting with Jewish leaders in which Obama said that the policy of “no daylight” with Israel was detrimental to U.S. interests and to advancing the peace process.

Obama in his remarks at that meeting was referring to the tendency of his two immediate predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, of keeping differences with Israeli leaders out of the public eye, although there were instances in both presidencies of open disagreement with Israel.

Earlier presidents, including George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, frequently disagreed publicly with Israel.

“The other core principle was ‘no surprises,’ ” Oren wrote. “President Obama discarded it in his first meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, in May 2009, by abruptly demanding a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the two-state solution.”

Limits on settlement building and the two-state solution were policies in place since the Clinton administration.

Oren, now a lawmaker in the Israeli Knesset as a member of the center-right Kulanu party, advised a return to the policies of “no daylight” and “no surprises.”

“Now, with the Middle East unraveling and dependable allies a rarity, the U.S. and Israel must restore the ‘no daylight’ and ‘no surprises’ principles,” he wrote. “Israel has no alternative to America as a source of security aid, diplomatic backing and overwhelming popular support. The U.S. has no substitute for the state that, though small, remains democratic, militarily and technologically robust, strategically located and unreservedly pro-American.”

Award-winning journalist thrashes U.S. mideast policy


Whether it’s President Barack Obama’s take on nuclear negotiations with Iran or his stance on Israel’s relationship with Palestine, the commander-in-chief’s foreign policy errors will have lasting repercussions with American allies, according to Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who visited Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills on June 7.

“One of the interesting things when you go around and talk to the rest of the Arab world, they are looking at the administration’s behavior toward Israel. And they are saying, ‘If this is how the Americans behave toward their good friend Israel, how are they going to behave toward us?’ ” Stephens said during the event called “Has Washington Given Up on the Middle East?” 

“This is deeply damaging to the United States. Whether it’s Hillary [Clinton] or whoever else becomes the next president, they are going to have to somehow persuade these allies or former allies that we are a dependable superpower. The president is on a personal, almost nihilistic mission to demonstrate that he does not care what the reputation of the United States should be on Jan. 22, 2017.”

Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign affairs columnist, focused on the president’s remarks made last month at Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C. He said Obama’s speech revealed what he sees as various double standards the administration utilizes in its public commentary of Israel’s actions. 

“The president has enunciated the position that he expects everything of Israel, and so should they fall short even by an inch or a foot, he will forgive them nothing,” Stephens said. “Whereas the view of the Palestinians is that they can transgress again and again and again and yet somehow be treated as entitled to international respectability, receptions at the White House and statehood.”

At Adas Israel, Obama admitted he holds Israel to an exalted sense of duty and feels compelled to call the Jewish state out when it does not measure up. 

“And it is precisely because I care so deeply about the state of Israel — it’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America — that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland. And I believe that’s two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well.”

The president also recalled images of Israel in its infancy: “I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim and Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war.”

Stephens asked what would happen if a previous president had spoken about the African-American community the same way Obama speaks about the Jewish-Israeli community. 

“Imagine if George Bush had said, ‘When I think of the African-American community, I think of people like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Martin Luther King Jr., and when the Black community doesn’t live up to those standards, then I’m going to have to speak out,’ ” Stephens said. “He would have been howled out of polite society.”

Stephens also chastised the Obama administration for its role in the international negotiations of Iran’s nuclear program, which he said is “increasingly divorced from reality.” 

Stephens, in response to a question from moderator Josh Block, president and CEO of The Israel Project (which sponsored the event with the Journal and Beth Jacob), spent several minutes playing devil’s advocate to those opposed to an Iranian nuclear deal — before tearing down such arguments. At first, Stephens mentioned the parallels between the United States’ current negotiations with Iran and its successful negotiations with China during the Nixon administration, but then he did an about face, saying there are important differences between the wounded Maoist China of the 1970s and Iran’s current economy. 

“Mao had no option but to reach a strategic accommodation with the United States,” Stephens said. “But Iran is winning on every front and is already a highly successful regional power. They are already getting sanctions relief. So why on Earth would they curb their ambitions?”

Stephens finished his conversation by offering a warning to American and Israeli Jews. In drawing upon accounts of Jews in Germany before the Holocaust, he asks Jews around the world to be prepared.  

“One of the things that I worry about most of all is that the Jewish people here or in Israel should never lose the instinct for danger,” Stephens said. “Israel has survived because it is a country founded on the instinct for danger, from Theodor Herzl to David Ben-Gurion to Ari Sharon, and I think that’s the essential point.”

Thanks for what?


Rob Eshman, the Jewish Journal’s Editor-in-chief, would like to thank President Obama on behalf of the Jewish people. I do not want to be ingrate but an examination of the historical record leads me to a completely opposite conclusion. Starting at the beginning of the Obama administration in 2009, we were introduced to a “new beginning” in Cairo. After making multiple layers of obeisance to the Islamic world, including the historical stretch that “Islam has always been a part of the American story,” the President turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obama did acknowledge the connection between Israel and America based upon cultural and historical ties. However, when he spoke of the rationale for Israel, the facts went by the wayside. From the Cairo speech, “the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.” In the very next sentence, the tragic history culminates in the Holocaust. Obama played right into an anti-Israel narrative of using Western guilt over the Holocaust as the justification for Israel’s existence, which is a misinterpretation of history. It ignores the fact that there has been a continuous Jewish presence in Israel since biblical times, albeit as a minority during much of the time since the destruction of the Second Temple. It ignores the fact that the only national polity that ever existed in the Land of Israel has been a Jewish state. It ignores the fact that Jews have been pining to return to Israel ever since the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. In his first major foreign policy address to the Arab world, a speech that would have been checked and rechecked by multiple departments and advisors within his administration, President Obama opted to ignore the Jewish historical connection to the Land of Israel.

And by doing so, could the President have been perceived as a supporting a distorted view of history that views Zionism as Western colonizers trampling the rights of an indigenous Arab population? I am sure that is what the Arab world heard when the speech was delivered as did the policy makers in Jerusalem.

In that same speech, the President recognized the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a nation of their own. Even the most ardent Zionist cannot ignore the Arab historical connection to the same piece of real estate. Given that Arab expulsion is neither a viable nor a moral option, you are left with a two-state solution, which is supported by a majority of the Israeli public. However, the President began his quest for a two-state solution by making demands upon Israel, demands that many Israelis would view as unreasonable with no comparable demands on Israel's ostensible “partner in peace.”

Later that same year, in response to pressure from the President for whom according to Eshman, Jews and Israelis should be grateful, Netanyahu imposed a ten-month settlement freeze on areas beyond the 1949 armistice lines, which are mistakenly called the “1967 borders.” Ariel Sharon vacated Gaza based upon an understanding with America, which was evidenced by 2004 letter from President Bush. The key points of that letter from the Israeli perspective were recognition of major land blocs in the territories remaining with Israel as part of any negotiated settlement. “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”

Did that letter carry any weight with the Obama administration? I think not! Did that ten-month freeze jump start negotiations? Well it took the Palestinians nine of those ten months to get to the starting gate and they would not continue the talks without continuing the settlement freeze; something no Arab negotiator had previously ever asked for in any direct negotiations with the Israelis. Has President Obama ever demanded that Palestinian negotiators back off from their so-called “right of return,” which is a 100% non-starter from the Israel perspective? We all know the answer to that question is no. So the “intransigent” Israelis are blasted for settlement activities, even while there are de facto freezes in areas outside the major settlement blocs, while Abu Mazen is never called to task for failing to prepare his people to vacate the right of return, something which is an absolute necessity in order to reach agreement with the Israelis?

What about cutting off rearming Israel during Operation Protective Edge? Are those the actions of Israel’s best friend? What about the “chicken sh#t” story? In that article, Jeffrey Goldberg kept a running list of names the Obama administration has used to describe Bibi – “recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and ‘Aspergery.’” Is that the way one talks about an ally?

All of the foregoing is minor league compared to what is happening in Iran. In his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, which was a prelude to the Adas Israel speech, the President spoke about the Iranian mullahs being both rationale and anti-Semitic. Any actions directed towards that goal are inherently irrational. How does the President fail to see that? Is it possible that Obama thinks every actor on the world stage views issues through the same prism that he does? Israel, however, understands both the Arab and Iranian mentalities in ways that the President never will because of having to survive in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world. What are the consequences to Israel and Obama about Obama being wrong about Iran? In that interview, the President makes clear that the Iran deal will be his mark on history, in other words his legacy. If it does not work out, history will view him unfavorably. If Obama is wrong, Israel faces the possibility of existential annihilation. Perhaps, that is somewhat more important to Israeli society than what history will think of Obama. So what Eshman thinks of as a lack of gratitude, I see as inherently rational, given the history of the relationship with Obama and the potential impact of the Iranian deal.

Knesset members call for policy, diplomatic shifts in wake of Obama interview


Israeli lawmakers have called for policy and diplomatic changes following a warning by President Barack Obama that Israel could lose international backing unless it supports a two-state solution.

Michael Oren, a lawmaker with the center-right Kulanu party and Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, said a day after Obama’s remarks on Israeli television — that Israel should freeze settlement building outside settlement blocs near the West Bank border. He also called on Israel to more actively demonstrate its desire for peace.

“The ball is in our court,” Oren, whose party is part of Israel’s governing coalition, said at a meeting Wednesday of the Knesset Caucus for Israel-U.S. Relations. “We must show we favor peace even in the absence of a Palestinian partner. We must show that we’re at the table even when the opposite seat is empty, and that we’ll work actively toward a permanent agreement.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Zionist Union, told Israel’s Army Radio that a friendlier posture toward the United States would also help Israel combat Iran’s nuclear program.

“The Iranian issue is a major national challenge, but in order to fight it, to ensure Israel’s standing among the nations … we need to speak with the administration and conduct intimate dialogue. Not humiliate it,” Herzog said Wednesday, according to the Times of Israel.

Obama in an interview that aired Tuesday night said doubts regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for a Palestinian state could lead to the United States lessening its support for Israel in international forums.

“If in fact there’s no prospect of an actual peace process, if nobody believes there’s a peace process, then it becomes more difficult to argue with those who are concerned about settlement construction, those who are concerned about the current situation,” Obama said on the Channel 2 program “Uvda.” “It’s more difficult for me to say to them, ‘Be patient, wait, because we have a process here.'”

Obama and Israel: rationality, self-interest and hatred


This past week President Barack Obama went on a Jewish offensive trying to gain support for the forthcoming agreement with Iran by giving an interview to Jeffrey Goldberg, the wise and deeply committed Jewish writer for The Atlantic, and by speaking at Adas Israel Congregation, the largest and most prestigious Conservative Congregation in Washington, D.C. While others have focused ad naseum on his remarks to the synagogue, I want to concentrate on a brief but highly instructive exchange with Jeffrey Goldberg.

Obama: You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—
Goldberg: And they make irrational decisions—
Obama: They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest… (italics mine)


The president presumes that anti-Semitic leaders indulge their hatreds at the margins of national policy but when push comes to shove, they follow rational self-interest.

Would that it were so!

History suggests otherwise. Examples abound, let me offer three from recent memory.

This past week I received an important new book by an Israeli historian Yaron Pasher entitled “Holocaust versus Wehrmacht: How Hitler’s Final Solution Undermined the German War Effort.”  Pasher is an expert in military logistics. His basis argument is simple, his evidence exhaustive, meticulous and irrefutable. During the times of greatest stress on the German military, the moments when fighting was fiercest and their logistical needs most acute, Germany launched its most intense efforts to murder the Jews.

In early 1942, Germany was fighting deep within Soviet territory. Expecting a short war and an easy conquest comparable to their experience in Poland and Western Europe, Germany had not supplied its fighting men with winter gear; its equipment was breaking down in the cold of the Russian winter, its 600,000 horses were not being fed, and its soldiers literally freezing to death. At that moment, the death camps were opened and during the next winter, spring and fall and into the following winter, the death trains rolled on unabated whileThe Wehrmact forces did without vital, urgently needed supplies.

The murder of Hungarian Jews is the second instructive instance: according to German documents, 437,402 Jews were shipped on 147 trains primarily to Auschwitz between the 15th of May and the 8th of July 1944. At this time, German forces were collapsing and the D-Day invasion of the European continent had begun, still the trains were secured. The deportation of Jews took priority over the war effort.

These were not marginal issues to Germany, but essential to the survival of the regime. Hatred often banishes rationality in policy decisions and anti-Semitism is, in the words of the late Robert Wistrich, the longest hatred.

Even before the war, anti-Semitism was more powerful than self interest. If territorial expansion and world conquest were Hitler’s highest priority, he would not have gotten rid of Jewish scientists. His own economics minister argued that ridding Jews from German industrial life would leave Germany underprepared for war. Germany lost World War I because it could not keep up industrially, and still it risked defeat again in order to be rid of its Jews.

By all rational calculations, the leaders of Iran know that Israel has second-strike capacity, and that should be sufficient to restrain them. When Iran first threatened Israel with nuclear annihilations, Israel acquired from Germany two nuclear submarines. It now has more. So any leader of Iran must calculate that a nuclear attack on Iran would result in the annihilation of his own citizens and destruction of Iran. For a rational regime, Mutual Assured Destruction should take the use of nuclear weapons off the table. Unless…

Unless Iran’s leaders truly believe that this is a worthy price to pay for the damage they can inflict on Israel.

Unless its religious leaders believe that the world to come is more important than this world, and that, like the suicide bombers before them who willingly sacrificed their lives in attacks on civilian Western and Jewish targets, a martyr’s death is greater than life itself.

We do now know their calculations, and the President is being overly simplistic if he believes that irrationality is only pursued at the margins. He may be revealing to us more about the discipline of his own thinking, his own rationality, than about his adversaries.

And let me remind my Jewish readers who so easily routinely, and thoughtlessly, compare the situation of Jews in our time to the Holocaust, the idea that Israel poses an existential threat to Iran is credible and demonstrable, while the Nazi fear that Jews posed an existential threat to Germany in the 1930 and 1940s was sheer madness.

I concede that the Iran agreement may the best of all the current alternatives, but the argument that rationality and self interest overcome hatred is not a convincing argument.

Obama: Defending Jews means criticizing Israel


Defending Jews from anti-Semitism is necessarily entwined with criticizing some of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, President Barack Obama told a Jewish audience.

“The rights I insist upon and fight for for all people in the United States compels me to look out for the rights of the Jewish people, and the rights of the Jewish people lead me to think about the child in Ramallah who feels trapped,” Obama said Friday, addressing the Adas Israel congregation in Washington D.C. “That’s what Jewish values teach me.”

Obama and his officials are making clear they will not back down from making public criticism of Israel when they feel it is warranted. He made a similar pledge this week to The Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who is an Adas congregant.

Tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intensified in March, when Netanyahu spoke to Congress and slammed Obama’s Iran policies in a speech that was organized with the congressional Republican leadership and without consultation with the White House.

Netanyahu’s comments ahead of Israeli elections the same month, urging followers to vote because “hordes of Arab voters” were being bused to polls, and appearing to back away from a two-state solution made matters worse, although Netanyahu after his reelection walked back both statements.

The White House invited Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador who helped organize the speech to Congress, to attend, but Dermer declined, saying he was out of town at a scheduled event.

Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel and said he was committed to combating what he called the “scourge” of anti-Semitism and its resurgence in Europe. “When we allow anti-Semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed.”

His speech, marking Jewish American Heritage Month, drew a mixed response, with some in the packed sanctuary applauding loudly when he reserved the right to criticize Israel when necessary and others staying silent.

“When I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support for Israel I must object,” was a line that drew extended applause and loud cheers – but not from all members of the audience.

Obama: Disagreeing with Israel is necessary to defend it


Open disagreement with Israel on some of its policies is a necessary component of the U.S. defense of Israel in the international community, President Barack Obama said.

Obama, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg posted Thursday on The Atlantic’s website, singled out Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Election Day appeal in March to his followers to vote because Arab-Israeli voters were turning out in “hordes.”

Obama strongly criticized the appeal, and Netanyahu later apologized to Arab-Israeli leaders.

“When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues,” Obama said.

“And when I am then required to come to Israel’s defense internationally, when there is anti-Semitism out there, when there is anti-Israeli policy that is based not on the particulars of the Palestinian cause but [is] based simply on hostility, I have to make sure that I am entirely credible in speaking out against those things, and that requires me then to also be honest with friends about how I view these issues.”

Obama has come under fire from pro-Israel groups and a number of Democrats and Republicans since 2009, when he told Jewish leaders early in his presidency that he was ending the policy of his predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, of not airing disagreements with Israel in public. His critics say open disagreements undercut the alliance and make Israel more vulnerable.

The president in his interview said his differences with Netanyahu were often overblown.

“What we said publicly was fairly spare and mild, and then would be built up — it seemed like an article a day, partly because when you get in arguments with friends, it’s a lot more newsworthy than arguments with enemies,” he said.

Obama said he remained strongly committed to Israel, likening its defense to the struggle for civil rights.

“There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African-Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” Obama said.

“These things are indivisible in my mind. But what is also true, by extension, is that I have to show that same kind of regard to other peoples. And I think it is true to Israel’s traditions and its values — its founding principles — that it has to care about those Palestinian kids.”

Obama also said there was no inconsistency between his pronouncements saying the Iranian regime was anti-Semitic and his quest for a nuclear deal with the same regime.

“I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program,” he said.

Obama, in meetings with Jewish leaders and donors, stresses how much he cares


Jewish leaders expected President Barack Obama to sell them hard on the Iran nuclear deal. Instead, participants in two White House meetings on Monday said he offered a softer pitch on how deeply he cares for Israel and the Jewish people.

“He tried to explain he understands Jewish trauma, history, the Jewish feeling of being alone in a bad neighborhood,” said a participant in the first meeting, which was attended by 15 top officials from Jewish organizations.

Another described the meeting as “intense.”

“There was an openheartedness, there were some deep reflections by the president,” this participant said.

Sources said the second meeting, for Jewish fundraisers for the Democratic Party, had a similar cast.

“He said, ‘I consider it a moral failure if something happened to Israel on my watch,’” a participant in the fundraisers’ meeting said. “He said, ‘I feel like I’m a member of the tribe.’”

JTA spoke to six participants in the meetings, both of which were off the record. None agreed to be identified because of ground rules set by the White House. Additionally, representatives of a number of groups gave JTA descriptions of the meetings. The accounts did not differ.

All six participants used “therapeutic” to describe the tone of the meetings.

Obama’s tone – at times anguished, according to participants – signals his concerns about how his presidency, heading into lame duck territory, is perceived in terms of his relationship to Israel and to Jews.

He raised these concerns in an interview with The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman posted April 5 on the newspaper’s website.

“It has been personally difficult for me to hear the sort of expressions that somehow we don’t have, this administration has not done everything it could to look out for Israel’s interest,” Obama told Friedman. “And the suggestion that when we have very serious policy differences, that that’s not in the context of a deep and abiding friendship and concern and understanding of the threats that the Jewish people have faced historically and continue to face.”

The worries come in the wake of a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations, focused mostly on disagreements over the Iran nuclear talks, but also fueled by lingering resentments over the collapse last year of the U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the difficulties that Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have in communicating with one another.

Jewish voter approval of Obama is at 54 percent, Gallup reported last week, just eight points above the national average of 46 percent. Jewish approval of Obama has routinely run 10-15 points higher than the national average throughout his presidency.

Earlier this month, the major powers and Iran announced the outline of a deal that would exchange sanctions relief for restrictions aimed at keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Congress was considering legislation that would require its review of any deal, and Obama had said he would veto it.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry held a meeting with Jewish leaders from the same organizations attending the White House meeting asking them not to lobby in favor of the legislation.

However, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate by Monday afternoon were close to a compromise on the legislation that would address White House concerns, and Obama told the second meeting with Jewish leaders that his concerns about the bill were allayed.

It’s not clear what the compromises were, but Democrats were seeking to remove from the bill determinations for the contents of a final deal, which is due by June 30, and instead confine the bill to mandating congressional review of any deal. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told MSNBC on Tuesday morning that a deal had been reached and that the bill was ready for a committee vote to take place that afternoon.

A number of the more conservative organizational leaders attending the first meeting, among them Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Allen Fagin, the Orthodox Union’s CEO, challenged Obama on the particulars of the Iran deal, including concerns that the sanctions relief went further than merited by the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity.

The meeting with the fundraisers became more of a strategy session on how Obama could better his messaging to Jewish-Americans, Israelis and the wider American community. Advice included being more communicative with Congress, which has regarded the White House as insulated, and engaging directly with the Israeli public, which is still reeling over the bitter exchanges prior to Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March. The address was arranged without consulting the White House.

Along with Obama, National Security Adviser Susan Rice attended the first meeting. The second meeting included Vice President Joe Biden, who for decades has been close to the pro-Israel community, and Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest advisers.

Organizations represented at the first meeting included the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, J Street, the National Council of Jewish Women, B’nai B’rith International, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Federations of North America, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Israel Policy Forum, as well as representatives from the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox streams.

The second meeting, with 14 invitees, included major Democratic givers and fundraisers, including Haim Saban, the Israeli-American entertainment mogul who has been critical of Obama’s Middle East policies; and Democratic donors associated with AIPAC, including past presidents Amy Friedkin and Howard Friedman, and with J Street, including Alexandra Stanton, Lou Susman and Victor Kovner.

Not all of the Jewish leaders at the first meeting were won over by the president’s appeal for understanding.

“People who come in with an anger and a dislike still walked out with an anger and a dislike,” said a participant who was sympathetic to the president but asked tough questions. “But a little guilty.”

Competing views of Iran deal highlight challenges ahead


Now that the outline for an Iran nuclear agreement has been released — or, more precisely, two outlines, one by Iran, the other by the Obama administration — major gaps have emerged that will need to be resolved ahead of a June 30 deadline for a final deal, including when sanctions on Iran are lifted.

President Barack Obama and Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, issued conflicting statements in the past week on the sanctions issue, with Obama suggesting sanctions would be relaxed only once Iran begins to implement its obligations and Khamenei demanding that all sanctions be suspended upon signing an agreement. Khamenei also vowed that military sites would not be open to nuclear inspectors, which clashes with the American text, which says inspectors have the right to visit suspicious sites “anywhere in the country.”

The next round of talks is likely to be held within three weeks in New York City, on the sidelines of a meeting of the United Nations Disarmament Commission, and both Obama and Khamenei have said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

In the coming weeks, both sides will endeavor to sell the deal to its various constituencies: Iran to its domestic hardliners, and the Obama administration to Congress, Jewish groups and skeptical allies, Israel chief among them.

What the Obama administration wants to see

In its outline of a framework accord reached earlier this month in Switzerland, and in subsequent statementsand interviews, the Obama administration has focused preeminently on the strict limits it is seeking on Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium.

These include limiting Iran’s advanced centrifuges to scientific research and reducing the number of active first-generation centrifuges, from 19,000 to 5,060, for 10 years. Enrichment would be limited to 3.67 percent, the level required for medical research and well short of weaponization levels. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium would be limited to 300 kilograms for 15 years. The deal would also provide for a regimen of intrusive inspections at all Iranian facilities.

“You have assurances that their stockpile of highly enriched uranium remains in a place where they cannot create a nuclear weapon,” Obama told National Public Radio last week.

According to the administration’s outline, sanctions relief is conditioned on Iran abiding by its commitments. The sanctions architecture will remain in place so they can be quickly reimposed if Iran defaults.

Additionally, Obama administration officials have emphasized that Iran’s breakout time will be extended from the current two to three months to a year, although how this will be quantified is not yet clear.

What Iran wants to see

In contrast with the phased relief outlined in the U.S. document, a “fact sheet” published by the Iranian Foreign Ministry posits an immediate lifting of sanctions after a deal is reached. On Thursday, in a speech broadcast live on Iranian television, Khamenei said there would be no point to the negotiations if they did not yield immediate sanctions relief.

“All sanctions should be removed when the deal is signed,” Reuters quoted Khamenei as saying. “If the sanctions removal depends on other processes, then why did we start the negotiations?”

On Twitter, Khamenei went further, accusing the United States of overall bad faith.

“Hours after the #talks, Americans offered a fact sheet that most of it was contrary to what was agreed,” said a tweet posted on his feed Thursday. “They always deceive and breach promises.”

On the enrichment question, the Iranian and American outlines are not mutually exclusive.

“None of the nuclear facilities or related activities will be stopped, shut down, or suspended, and Iran’s nuclear activities in all of its facilities including Natanz, Fordow, Isfahan, and Arak will continue,” said the Iranian document, which goes on to name only Natanz as a site for 3.67 percent uranium enrichment, which comports with the U.S. document. The other sites are deemed acceptable for scientific research in the American version, a status that conceivably comports with “related activities” in the Iranian document.

What Israel wants to see

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in the immediate wake of the agreement that the framework deal would threaten Israel’s survival. He counseled “standing firm and increasing the pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved.”

Netanyahu did not provide details, but in interviews he has said that Israel could tolerate a deal that left “hundreds” of centrifuges in place, as opposed to the 5,060 the U.S. outline anticipates — itself a significant concession for Netanyahu, who had previously said that Israel would tolerate no more than a zero capacity for uranium enrichment.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence, also provided more details of Israel’s desires for a final deal in a briefing for reporters in Jerusalem, demanding a complete end to research and development of advanced centrifuges, the shuttering of the underground Fordo facility, and freedom for inspectors to go “anytime, anywhere.”

In an Op-Ed published April 8 in the Washington Post, Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli defense minister, called for dismantling much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

“Intelligence and inspections are simply no substitute for dismantling the parts of Iran’s program that can be used to produce atomic bombs,” Yaalon wrote.

Israel also has an eye on Iran’s destabilizing activities elsewhere in the region. The Obama administration and its five negotiating partners – China, Russia, France, Germany and Great Britain – see the nuclear deal as discrete from other Iranian actions.

“Restrictions imposed on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program will expire in about a decade, regardless of Iran’s campaign of murderous aggression in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere across the Middle East; its arming, funding, training and dispatching of terrorists around the world; and its threats and violent efforts to destroy Israel, the region’s only democracy,” Yaalon wrote.

Netanyahu recently also demanded Iran’s recognition of Israel as a component of a final deal, a requirement that Obama has said is unrealistic.

What Congress wants to see

Two bills under consideration in Congress, both backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, could affect the outcome of an Iran deal.

One sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), would mandate new sanctions should Iran default on a deal or walk away from the talks. Obama has said such a bill would scuttle the talks and has pledged to veto it. The bill was approved in January by the Senate Banking Committee. Now its fate is in the hands of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the majority leader, who must decide whether it advances to the full body.

McConnell has not shown his hand, but he is unlikely to move it forward unless he can build a veto-proof majority of 67, which would require the support of 13 Democrats. With Menendez sidelined as he faces indictment on corruption charges, that is unlikely.

The other bill, backed by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, would require congressional review of an Iran deal. That bill stands a better chance of passage.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is in line to become his party’s Senate leader in the next Congress, backs the bill as it is. Other Democrats, including key Obama allies like Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Menendez’s replacement as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the top Democrat on its Middle East subcommittee, say they would back the bill if Corker removes non-nuclear related elements, among them requirements that Iran cease backing for terrorism.

The Corker bill comes up for review by the Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, and Cardin said he hoped to shape it to make it a “process” bill and not one that prescribes the terms of an agreement.

“One of my concerns is that the bill carries out its mission — a way for Congress to review and take action,” Cardin told JTA.

Obama, who had previously said he would veto the Corker bill, indicated this week that he could work with a modified version.

Netanyahu offers alternatives to Iran deal following latest Obama criticism


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel offered alternatives on the nuclear framework agreement with Iran.

Netanyahu released a statement on Sunday with the changes to the deal signed earlier this month, a day after President Barack Obama told reporters that Netanyahu had not provided any alternatives.

The Israeli leader called on the international community to negotiate a better agreement.

In his statement, Netanyahu criticized Iran for insisting in the wake of the agreement on maintaining its nuclear capabilities and refusing to allow nuclear inspections, as well as its continuing aggression in the region.

“Let me reiterate again the two main components of the alternative to this bad deal: First, instead of allowing Iran to preserve and develop its nuclear capabilities, a better deal would significantly roll back these capabilities – for example, by shutting down the illicit underground facilities that Iran concealed for years from the international community,” he said. “Second, instead of lifting the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear facilities and program at a fixed date, a better deal would link the lifting of these restrictions to an end of Iran’s aggression in the region, its worldwide terrorism and its threats to annihilate Israel.”

On Saturday, Obama spoke at a news conference at the Americas Summit in Panama City, Panama, on Netanyahu’s failure to come up with alternatives.

“The prime minister of Israel is deeply opposed to it, I think he’s made that very clear,” Obama said. “I have repeatedly asked, what is the alternative that you present that you think makes it less likely for Iran to get a nuclear weapon? And I have yet to obtain a good answer on that.”

The Netanyahu statement came the same day that Haaretz reported, citing two unnamed Israeli officials, that Netanyahu said at an April 3 meeting of the security Cabinet that if a final agreement is signed between Iran and the world powers, the greatest concern is that Tehran will fully implement it without violations.

Netanyahu reportedly said at the meeting — hours before the start of the Passover seder and a day after the framework agreement was signed — that he was concerned that Iran will not break the agreement, waiting until it expires in 10-15 years and the country is not considered a threat to restart its nuclear program without the threat of international monitors or sanctions.

The security Cabinet decided at the meeting to try to persuade the Obama administration to improve the agreement. Most ministers, however, reportedly believe the best way to halt or alter the agreement is through Congress, which is where the most effort will be spent.

U.S. says Iran sanctions face phase-out, Obama knocks Israel demand


The United States made clear on Monday that sanctions on Iran would have to be phased out gradually under a nuclear pact and President Barack Obama poured cold water on an Israeli demand that a deal be predicated on Tehran recognizing Israel.

“The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won't sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms,” Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

“That is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment… We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can't bank on the nature of the regime changing,” he said.

Meanwhile White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there was no ambiguity about the U.S. demand that sanctions on Tehran be lifted in phases under a final deal, but details still had to be negotiated.

“It has never been our position that all of the sanctions against Iran should be removed from Day One,” he told a briefing.

The White House is working aggressively to convince U.S. lawmakers and other critics to embrace the framework agreement reached on Thursday between Iran, the United States and five other major powers.

The framework was a major step toward a final deal but did not include an agreement on the timing and scope of sanctions relief. Many other issues also must be hammered out before the end-of-June deadline for a final accord.

Iran's negotiators have interpreted the outline differently, saying sanctions would be lifted immediately once an accord is signed.

Earnest said Washington would want to see sustained compliance by Iran first and Iranwould be more likely to comply if it knew sanctions could be applied again.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said on Monday the differences in portrayals of the deal by both sides were not disputes over content but were related to what each side chose to emphasize.

“There's no doubt that right now there's a different narrative, but not in conflict with what's written down,” Moniz said.

A key U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia, sounded a note of caution on the agreement.

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, told reporters the oil-rich kingdom wants to see more details on the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear work, nuclear inspections, and when international sanctions on Tehran would be lifted.

U.S. and Israel escalate war of words over Iran


Israel and the Obama administration have stepped up their war of words over the framework agreement that aims to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for a gradual rollback of sanctions.

President Barack Obama made his most detailed effort yet to persuade skeptics of the accord reached last week in Switzerland in a weekend interview with The New York Times, asserting that the deal is the “best bet” to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon and promising to “stand by” Israel in the event of Iranian aggression.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his skepticism of the deal undiminished, made the rounds of American talk shows on Sunday morning to denounce a deal that he said gives Iran a “free path” to the bomb. And on Monday, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, in an effort to rebut claims that Israel had offered no alternative to a military campaign against Iran, presented reporters in Jerusalem with a list of modifications he said would make the agreement “more reasonable.”

Steinitz’s requirements included the closing of the underground nuclear facility at Fordo, a commitment to ship uranium stockpiles out of the country and an inspections regime that would allow international monitors the ability to go “anywhere, anytime” in Iran.

Under the terms of the framework accord reached April 2 in Lausanne, the Fordo facility would be reconfigured and would not enrich uranium, but it would not be shuttered entirely. Iran also would be permitted to continue to enrich uranium using its first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at its facility in Natanz. The accord requires Iran to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency access to investigate allegations of covert activity “anywhere in the country.”

In his interview with Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Obama said the deal is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to open a new chapter with Iran while preserving all American options and capabilities in the event that Iran fails to uphold its end of the bargain.

“Iran may change,” Obama said. “If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place.”

He added, “We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it?”

Obama acknowledged that Israel is far more vulnerable to Tehran, and he sought to offer assurances that the United States would maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge and come to its aid in the event of attack. The United States, Obama said, “is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.”

Yet on Monday, Obama indicated there were limits to how far he would go with respect to Israel, rejecting a demand issued last Friday by Netanyahu that a final deal require Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist, calling the notion a “fundamental misjudgment.”

“The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms,” Obama said in an interview with NPR. “And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment. I want to return to this point: We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing.”

Obama still faces an uphill climb in Congress. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has proposed a bill that would grant Congress the right to review the deal. The committee is due to vote on the bill April 14. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is expected to become Senate minority leader when Harry Reid (D-Nev.) retires at the end of the year, said this week that he would support Corker’s legislation.

“I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement, and I support the Corker bill, which would allow that to occur,” Schumer told Politico on Monday.

American Jewish groups are also skeptical of the accord. The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs issued statements following the conclusion of the agreement last week expressing hope for a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the standoff. But the groups also expressed doubt that Iran could be trusted to faithfully execute its end of the bargain.

“Given the nature of the Iranian regime, its pattern of seeking to deceive the international community on its nuclear program, its support for global terror and its regional hegemonic ambitions, its repeated calls for a world without Israel, and its clandestine weapons efforts, AJC is deeply concerned about whether Iran will abide by any undertaking it makes, and if any inspections regime will be sufficient to monitor Iran’s full compliance,” the American Jewish Committee said.

In an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Netanyahu compared the agreement to the 1994 deal between the United States and North Korea. That deal, too, Netanyahu said, was “deemed to be a great breakthrough,” but it did not prevent the country from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran, the prime minister said, “is a great deal more dangerous than North Korea.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning that the agreement does not threaten Israel’s survival and that Netanyahu should “contain himself because he has put out no real alternative. In his speech to the Congress — no real alternative. Since then — no real alternative.”

Steinitz pushed back against that criticism on Monday, saying the notion that war is the alternative to the Obama deal “is wrong.”

“The alternative is not necessarily to declare war on Iran,” he said. “It is to increase pressure on Iran and stand firm and make Iran make serious concessions and have a much better deal.”

Restarting the U.S.-Israel relationship depends on Palestinians too


As someone who was critical of several steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the campaign leading up to his reelection, particularly his decision to address Congress and his statement seeming to reject a Palestinian state, I am even more troubled by statements now coming out of the White House calling for a reassessment of policy toward Israel, including a reconsideration of the historic American veto in the UN Security Council.

Let me be clear: I wish Mr. Netanyahu would do more to solidify relations with Israel's ally in America and to stand up to those in Israel who seek to make impossible a Palestinian state. None of this, however, justifies what we are hearing from the Obama administration. Their reactions raise deeper questions about their intentions and perspectives.

From the beginning of the Obama years, there was a disturbing indifference to the mindset of the Israeli public, characterized by the president's speech in Cairo and focus on Israeli settlements as the key obstacle to peace.

Talk of “neither party willing to make sacrifices for peace,” and even seeming to put the blame on Israel, simply disregarded the brutal reality of what Israelis went through for a decade starting with the Camp David meeting in 2000. There, a left-wing Israeli government, elected by a public hoping against hope that the Palestinians were finally ready to abandon their decades-long struggle against Israel, offered a true two-state solution to the Palestinians. Not only was it rejected, but violence and suicide bombs followed for years.

After that, Israeli leaders took two more steps toward that vaunted goal of two states: first the gut-wrenching withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and then the offer by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008. Israelis saw these initiatives rejected again, together with Hamas taking over Gaza with its attendant rockets and war. In sum, Israelis saw an unrepentant foe still seemingly committed to irredentist goals.

Nothing much has changed since then on the Palestinian side. Hamas continues to control Gaza and, after another war, is seeking to rearm for the next conflict against Israel. And the Palestinian Authority has found every excuse to avoid negotiations, making it clear to Israelis that Palestinian leaders are far more interested in turning the international community and the U.S. against Israel than to resolving their internal problems and the conflict with Israel. Or put another way, they seemed interested in achieving a Palestinian state only if it meant not having to end the struggle against Israel.

What, therefore, would have been a reasonable response by Washington to recent developments?

Resentment at Mr. Netanyahu's sidestepping the president is understandable. If there was concern about the election of a right-wing government, however, attention should have focused less on not liking what Israeli democracy produced and more on examining why Israelis voted as they did and what can be done to change that reality.

The answer lies not in the U.S. distancing itself from Israel, which will encourage Palestinians in their belief that they can have their cake and eat it, achieving a state without accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish state. And it will reinforce Israeli fears of being under siege.

Rather, it lies in doing something the administration has seemingly been reluctant to do: pressuring the Palestinians into finally making the qualitative leap toward accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish state. This and this alone could truly change the dynamic of the conflict that has been troubling the world for so long.

Steps that would represent such change would include concrete indications of finally recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, accepting that the Palestinian refugee problem would be resolved within a new Palestinian state, declaring that a peace accord would represent the end of the conflict and future demands and eliminating the hate campaigns in the media and schools against Israel and Jews.

The absence of any progress on all these issues over many years leaves Israelis with the belief that not much has changed on the Palestinian side, and that they need to tough it out until change comes.

There are good arguments against this Israeli approach even if there is no change on the Palestinian side. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opted for a unilateral initiative despite his belief that Israel currently had no peace partner. But as these elections show, most Israelis are ready to vote for security in the current environment.

On the other hand, if real positive Palestinian change would occur, that would generate the greatest impact for change on the Israeli side. A diminution of fears about Palestinian intentions is the best formula for a more moderate Israeli electorate and Israeli policies.

This should be a time for healing between American and Israeli leaders. The prime minister, the president and congressional leaders should not be trying to score points at the expense of the other. Instead they should refocus on the common values and interests of the two nations and recognize that we both face many common challenges in the Middle East.

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.

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