On Majnouns, Gorillas and Devouring Chess Kings

By Dave Wurmser Ph.D.

Israel’s position in Gaza had been under immense pressure from the United States on several fronts.  The US was pressing for expansion of humanitarian aid, even though there was a four-fold increase in food truck delivery into Gaza over comparable periods before the war (about 4kg of food per person per day this week). The US was also pushing Israel to abandon large-scale operations, deploy defensively and employ targeted operations only. It asked that Israel show immense flexibility on the ceasefire-hostage talks and to avoid any real military actions during Ramadan. The US also asked Israel to take off the table any plan to take Rafiah, the last remaining stronghold of Hamas – a request that essentially would leave Hamas to survive as the ruler of a rump-Gaza entity. The impossibility of these demands created pressure – described by some Israelis as perhaps the greatest rupture in US-Israeli relations since Israel’s founding.  

Israel redeploys in Gaza

And then suddenly, on April 9, Israel shifted its position, essentially folding on all counts except for the insistence that Rafiah will still be taken, but not quite yet.  Essentially, Israel on the surface yielded on the ceasefire-hostage talks, on the humanitarian supply, and on defense redeployment. It appeared as if Israel handed the United States the keys to the car.

It certainly seemed that way to Hizballah and Iran. Hizballah crowed that the end of the war was nigh and that Israel had been defeated.  Iran, emboldened by what it saw as the American ability to leash its ally tightly, felt it could strike Israel – or even to threaten to strike Israel – and the United States would panic, Israelis would lose their nerve, and Iran would with impunity score a big psychological victory and perhaps a military victory without a major Israeli response.  

Certainly, the popular mood in Israel was indeed anxious over the Gaza redployment.  It remains a consensus that the US positions, if accepted, amounted to an Israeli defeat. That was clear, but had Israel’s government too lost its will, as it might seem, to continue the draining argument with its most important ally on the eve of what seemed to be the most dangerous phase of the war as it threatened to spread to the north of Israel, regionally and perhaps even with Iran itself.

There is no denying that there has been a dramatic change in Gaza. But why? 

Reset and Resequencing

What we may be seeing is a strategic reset, or rather a strategic resequencing.  Israel has fought the war over the last six months as an extension of the October 7 attacks itself.  In other words, Israel fought to defeat the invader and to try to free the hostages, ultimately to create a new reality in Gaza that guarantees no more October 7th’s will happen.  But this “Gaza first” was reactive.  The nature of the war was dictated by Hamas, and now that Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) organizations themselves admit that one of the generals Israel assassinated in Damascus last week was the operational mastermind planning the attack, it is clear that it was the war Iran had chosen for Israel that it must fight. 

But Hamas has been whittled down, not entirely but enough that the final push can be deferred a few weeks.  To be clear, both fundamental strategic considerations as well as public opinion in the population create certainty that it will still happen, but the sequencing changed. The goals Israel set– to destroy Hamas’ operations capacity and ensure it rules over nobody and no territory — were both correct and uncompromisable. But for the moment, as Iran weighs its response to Israel’s strike on its IRGC conclave in Damascus that killed so many top officials, and as Hizballah and Israel slowly escalate along the Israeli-Lebanese border, Gaza has become a temporary sideshow.  

It is all now about Iran itself and the potential for an attack on Israel from Iran, though NOT from Iranian territory itself.  The head of the octopus is about to act, not just its tentacles.

The Biden team the nuisance

On this, Israel is alone.  While mystifying, the United States could continue in its delusion that somehow Iran does not control its proxies.  It is some sort of extension of a longer-term delusion that explains away Iran’s most dangerous behaviors as the actions of mythological “wildcat hardliners” throughout the life of the Iranian revolutionary regime.  It was a convenient delusion since it ultimately not only fails to hold Iran to account, but actually establishes a framework for inaction (“it would validate hardliners”). 

But the American “support” promised is really a poisoned chalice.  Indeed, as the threats mounted, the administration behind the scenes was trying to signal Iran that its strike should not be so “inappropriate” as to trigger a direct Israeli response onto Iran as CENTCOM officials said.  The United States embassy in Jerusalem also signaled its citizens on April 12 to stay away from the periphery land of Israel – clearly another message to Tehran that an attack on Tel Aviv – as opposed to peripheral communities in Israel – would be seen as inappropriate and could trigger such a withering Israeli response.  Also, Axios reporter Barak Ravid – who serves as the mouthpiece for the Biden administration to Israeli audiences – reported on April 13 that Untied States had “asked Israel to notify the U.S. ahead of any retaliation against Iran and for the US to have a say before decisions are made.”  

The Biden administration clearly is more worried about an Israeli retaliation to an Iranian strike than they are about the strike itself.  It seeks to run interference to avoid a decisive Israeli action against Iran – in fear of the collapse of its twin-pillared paradigm (advancing a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue and seeking a strategic regional condominium with the Islamic Revolutionary Regime of Iran) – which in effect serves to save Hamas and Iran from defeat. But the U.S. loss of nerve and its attempts to leash its ally, Israel, run against the underlying realities of the situation and will fail.  

The character of the Iranian regime’s strategy is to manipulate rather than fight, given its inherent weaknesses and great vulnerabilities. To do so, it employs disinformation, especially disinformation that stimulates Western concepts that serve their interests.  So, it taps into the fear of apocalyptic escalation which has always been employed by Tehran to deter the United States from taking actions against them, and lately to deter the United States from responding meaningfully to its regional rampages. The apocalyptic messaging from Tehran thus is likely to frighten the United States into restraining Israel in its responses to some form of Iranian attack (including by its proxies) and to further incite tensions between Jerusalem and Washington. Thus, the more Tehran observes the rupture in US-Israeli relations, the more emboldened it feels to act against Israel even more aggressively and dangerously via its proxies.

Shahrazade, gorillas and Majnouns

But this reality is reaching its turning point.  Ever since October 7th, Iran has been the grand puppeteer of its proxies, managing and directing the show across the region. Israel has reacted; which is a position in which one can win only with immense difficulty.  As noted, Iran – the civilization that gave the world chess – is the master chess player.  And in chess, the side that has a plan and orchestrates the board to force the opponent into constant reaction wins.  An Iranian dissident, Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, once told me that when strategically parrying with the regime in Iran, one must remember that one is playing chess with a gorilla.  When he starts to lose, he will simply lean over, and either grab your king and eat it, or just overturn the board.  Either way, all rules are off and you sit for a moment paralyzed collecting yourself and measuring the circumstances as you digest what happened.  In that moment of unpredictability, the gorilla has reset the rules and is back in control.  To win against the Ayatollahs – who carefully move their pieces, manipulate and at times overturn the board – Tehran’s adversary must himself become the gorilla.  Or perhaps to shift metaphors to a regional cultural context, Iran’s adversary must act as if it allowed the Jinn (Genies) to possess one’s soul, which serves as the crazed extension of the Jinn’s insanity (Janana). The possessed becomes a “Majnoun” – a crazed and dangerous loose cannon. Whether gorilla or Majnoun, Iran’s opponent must leave Iran paralyzed in fear derived from its appreciation that its strategy of manipulation has failed because it depends on the opponent’s predictability, which is suddenly gone.  

Power itself does not frighten Iran since it sees real power in strategy and manipulation, not hardware.  This is the land that brought us Shehrazade and A 1001 Nights.  The cycle is not about adventures and eroticism – though there is much—but those are merely vehicles to seize the imagination and captivate the audience. Neither is it about the cycle’s attention-deficit-disorder arrangement of tales, where one is started but not finished and then another and another, nor even the onion-like wrapping of everything where the tales are eventually finished one by one after they all were started.  The main theme of the cycle is that the most abject creature manifesting weakness itself in this tale – a woman condemned to death by a misogynist king for the next dawn – slowly uses her tales not only to buy time, but to slowly seize the soul of King Shahriyar, and in so doing, reawakens his humanity, empathy and capability for love. She controls her environment through the seduction of the story telling, but the aim is that the symbol of weakness controls and triumphs over the soul of the symbol of absolute power.  

Again, power does not frighten Iran.  In contrast, loosing control of the situation does terrorize and paralyze Iran since it denies it the ability to be Shahrazad, to manipulate its weakness into domination of the soul of the absolute power. 

Israel has an opportunity to respond to Iran with the understanding that this may be its one chance to retake the regional strategic initiative and turn the region’s strategic momentum against Iran and place it in Israel’s hands. Israel has both the opportunity and the imperative to be the gorilla, to allow the Jinn to take over its body and “go crazy” (Majnoun).

Iran’s Hobson’s choice; trapped and no way out

In this context, one must remember how vulnerable Iran actually is. In terms of power, they are weaker, but they are the master no less than Shahrazad of the phycological strategy of manipulation.

Just the mere threat of an Israeli reaction has tanked Iran’s currency and caused a bank-run. But Israel has laid a trap – clearly accidentally since the strike on the Iranian generals’ conclave appears to have been more an extension of the war being waged to destroy Hamas and degrade Hizballah and not a move imagined in the context of a regional war.  Whether intentional or not, though, it has placed Iran in the impossible position of having to react to Israel rather than be the one pulling the strings that forces Israel to react.  Moreover, it would be even more out of character than allowing itself to be forced to react to respond from its territory directly into Israel.  And yet, the internal pressures on the regime are mounting to something substantial:

  • Some IRGC types have long argued that timidity is the greatest threat, and that divine intervention leading to the great victory and return of the Imam will come only in the framework of resolute will. In this respect, there was two years ago a poster in Iran of Musa (Moses) berating his generals for timidity in the face of the threat of Pharoah’s army, and that salvation comes only by Musa’s resolute rejection of the timid, cautious path.
  • The regime banks on an image of toughness and terror. Not responding tarnishes that and threatens the regime.
  • Iranians have in recent months laughed and ridiculed their leadership for its big talk and small action in the war. These episodes of ridicule are now exploding like a volcano in the absence of a response.
  • The belief that escalation might so freak out Washington that it could lead Washington in fear to support a universal (Hamas and Hizballah) UN Security Council ceasefire resolution that may be Chapter 7, which would leave Hamas in place and Hizballah unaddressed. This is not an unrealistic expectation, by the way.

And yet, the bottom line remains unchanged:

  • ⁠Iran’s being reactive in response violates Iranian strategic character. They play chess and pride themselves that the essence of their strategy is anchored to manipulation over their adversary. Manipulative control not only is effective, but nourishes a sense of intellectual and spiritual superiority. In chess, if you are forced into a reactive game, you lost. You have to set the agenda and force the opponent into reaction. As such, Iran fears this is a chess-like trap set by Israel that they must avoid falling into, and instead of impulsively reacting, must do something unexpected that restores to them manipulative control of events.
  • Iran could launch a large number of long-range missiles, but few if any will get through due to the Arrow missile defense. That itself could be a humiliation.
  • Israel’s response could be withering directly back onto Iran, and could involve critical economic targets (ports, refineries), regime targets that can encourage opposition revolt (IRGC headquarters, Basiji HQ etc. , take out the drone and missile factories upon which not only Iran, but its proxies and Russia rely, and of course the nuclear program.
  • Israel would likely destroy Hizballah, leaving Iran without its terror-hub proxy.
  • Iranians would die, which would incur wrath against the regime for bringing this down on them.

Overall, this limits the chances of any response directly from Iran’s territory which could expose the limits and vulnerabilities of Iran’s power.

But inaction also humiliates.  The public ridicule the regime faces for its lack of reaction can be fatal.  So Tehran now finds itself in an impossible Hobson’s choice, and will be forced with a substantial degree of seriousness to react – bad as reacting rather than acting is – in hopes that it can then proceed to slowly regain its control as the grand puppeteer.

Israel’s golden opportunity

But how Israel responds to Iran at this point is perhaps the most important event of this war – and perhaps the most important event in the region in decades. 

Iran has severe weaknesses. The same way as Shahrazad maneuvered, Iran has no alternative but to leverage its position through manipulation and bravado in order to maneuver the enemy from strength into weakness. To be manipulative, it needs to control the regional environment. It needs predictable opponents. If Israel uses any Iranian action as a pretext to turn this war directly into Tehran, to become the gorilla in the room, then this becomes something the Iranians cannot handle.

As such, Israel has for the next few weeks the opportunity to move from the local (Gaza, even Lebanon) to the strategic (Iran itself) by Jerusalem’s becoming the gorilla or Majnoun, or even worse, the Majnoun-gorilla. Israel thus faces that moment in which it has the opportunity to hit the strategic reset button and take control over strategic initiative in the region. 

In this context, continuing a public spat with the United States over what is for the next few weeks the strategic sideshow, simply had to be shut down and deferred until the proverbial bigger fish is fried. Moreover, the one aspect of Gaza that Israel cannot defer however is the attempt to save as many hostages as possible.  So Jerusalem essentially used the strategic reduction of importance for the moment of the Gaza front and threw to the United States control over the hostage-for-ceasefire talks to both leave no stone unturned in bringing the poor souls home, as well as to buy in much bigger support – or maybe even to preoccupy Washington as a diversion — when it really matters right now given what may happen with Iran.

In the long run, Israel simply cannot win the war thrust upon it in Gaza on October 7 without going all the way on Rafiah and maintaining stabilizing operations through occupation for quite some time (including keeping the north of Gaza largely empty and buffer zones all around), but the sequence of Gaza first, then Hizballah and eventually Iran has been upturned.

For the moment, Israel must become the Majnoun-gorilla.

How Israel, with US backing, should respond to Iran’s attack

President Joe Biden and his advisers bear significant responsibility for Iran’s massive Saturday attack on Israel, consisting of more than 300 drones and ballistic or cruise missiles. Before, during, and after Hamas’s barbaric Oct. 7 assault on the Jewish state, his administration refused to acknowledge Tehran’s “ring of fire” strategy, conducted through terrorists such as Hamas, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. The White House signaled both obliviousness and weakness by not recognizing that today’s Middle East conflict is not Palestinians or Arabs against Israel, but an Iranian war against “the little Satan.”

Instead, Biden saw only separate threats, constantly whining about risking a “wider war,” and blind to the reality that the wider war started on Oct. 7. Prior to Saturday’s attack, he remained blind, pursuing a Gaza ceasefire that had become unreachable, and that would have achieved nothing strategically significant.

Biden, administration officials, and key congressional Democrats also unleashed a flood of abuse against Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for example, in an unprecedented public lecture to a U.S. ally, called for new Israeli elections, hoping to oust Netanyahu’s government. Having earlier called Israel’s bombing in Gaza “indiscriminate,” which would make Israel’s offensive a war crime if true, Biden quickly seconded Schumer’s hostility, describing Netanyahu’s approach to the Gaza battle as a “mistake.” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) rightly pegged the real motivations for Biden’s and Schumer’s whining about Netanyahu: fear of the Democratic Party’s anti-Israel left wing.

By contrast, Israel immediately understood that Iran was the hidden hand behind Oct. 7. Jerusalem’s April 1 strike against top Quds Force officers in Damascus was important in its continuing defensive military response.

And, ironically, Iran was also clear-eyed about the stakes between itself and Israel, a rare point of agreement. Having now launched drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles against Israel from Iranian territory, the ayatollahs surely expect Jerusalem to respond.

What is difficult to explain, however, is Iran’s delay in retaliating for Israel’s Damascus strike. If the ayatollahs considered doing very little, hoping to avoid potentially devasting retaliation on Iranian targets, that option was obviously rejected. Was there divisive internal debate about Iran’s response? Or was the delay merely because of preparations and other operational factors? Answers to many of these questions remain unknowable, but could have strategic significance in coming days.

The sad truth is that Israeli and U.S. deterrence against Iran failed. Proportionality, diplomacy, “messaging,” and academic game theory all came to naught. Israel must now respond, hopefully with complete American backing, and that response must not be “proportionate.” It should be decidedly disproportionate, thereby being unmistakably clear to Tehran that, if it ever attacks again, it will face far higher costs than any imaginable pain it might impose on Israel.

Jerusalem’s response could begin immediately, even while the defense of Israel and relief and rescue operations remain underway.

To start, Israel should destroy Iran’s air defenses, to facilitate its retaliation now and well into the future, with targets including anti-aircraft artillery and missiles, radars, and their associated command-and-control facilities. A broader target set could include the central and regional headquarters for Iran’s conventional military forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, particularly the Quds Force, which controls relations with Iran’s terrorist proxies. Degrading Iran’s conventional military capabilities, especially the launch sites for Saturday’s attack, would substantially reduce its ability to intimidate its neighbors, especially the oil-producing Gulf Arab states, and its capacity to arm and supply its regional terrorist proxies.

Further up the prospective target list is Iran’s oil-and-gas-producing infrastructure: the oil-and-gas fields, refining and processing facilities, domestic distribution pipelines and terminals, and the hydrocarbon export ports and related facilities. Obviously, paralyzing Iran’s principal source of wealth, both in terms of foreign income and domestic industry and daily life, would severely impede Iran’s belligerence.

At the highest end of potential targets are Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities. The uranium-conversion and uranium-enrichment programs and the weaponization work at Iranian military bases pose varying degrees of difficulty to destroy, particularly for Israel, but Netanyahu has long focused on the dangers to Israel from Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Netanyahu knows better than anyone that, while none of the missiles launched so far have been nuclear-armed, the real risk is what happens next time. Having now attacked Israeli territory from Iran once, not relying on its terrorist surrogates, Iran has shown itself fully capable of doing so again whenever it chooses.

Israel is at risk that the next salvo of ballistic missiles will carry nuclear warheads. Netanyahu could roll the dice and hope they don’t, but he knows that the threat of what his predecessor Ariel Sharon once called a “nuclear holocaust” is closer to reality than ever before. Israel would be entirely justified in removing that threat, and the United States should fully support such a decision.

John Bolton served as national security adviser to then-President Donald Trump between 2018 and 2019. Between 2005 and 2006, he served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

This article was first published in The Washington Examiner on April 14, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Progressive Neo-Colonialism and Israel’s Second War of Independence

By Dave Wurmser, Ph.D

Israel is poised to enter Rafiah in Gaza and the adjacent “Philadelphia” corridor bordering Egypt to destroy the remainder of Hamas’ organized forces in Gaza and begin to establish security control over the whole salient.  In a desperate attempt to convince Israel yet again to desist from doing this, the Biden administration now proposes to establish a joint-Israeli military command.  While this alone ushers in battalions of problems, the most disturbing aspect of this is the trend it represents of trying to Americanize the Gaza conflict – increasingly as a neutral between the IDF and Hamas – with increasing US involvement.  This follows the establishing of an American port, and reports that the US has started budgeting a plan for a “peacekeeping force” to be deployed to Gaza. The logic of this leads to one place, even though it is not yet fully conceived as US policy or not yet ready to be unveiled: in order to prioritize avoiding further damage to the Gazan population, the US injects itself, perhaps even its own forces, as a buffer between them and Israel ostensibly to ordinate with the latter but really to protect the former from the latter.

The determination in Washington to wring from Israel’s hands its agency originates not only in a measure of policy despair arising from Israel’s determination to proceed to victory rather than begin to wind down.  It emerges from an increasing embrace of a domineering progressivism willing to pursue a neo-colonial annulling of Israeli sovereignty to advance a paradigm fundamentally at odds with the world of concepts that Israel now labors in the post-October 7 world. 

It will fail not only because Israel is so determined, but because the October 6 paradigms the administration holds are detached from reality, and because the increasingly progressive aims of the administration are unaligned with American values and culture.

A clash of paradigms

Since October 6, Israel has two critical strategic objectives in Gaza: to return the hostages and to ensure that another October 7-like attack will never happen again. Both aims emanate from the most rudimentary function of government: to secure its citizens. 

The United States rhetorically agrees, but it hopes to attain these two goals by advancing the very same paradigms that governed Israel until October 6 and catastrophically failed: grant Palestinians every carrot possible to ease their hatred and build up their investment in maintaining calm.  In doing so, Washington thus hopes (and still does) to diminish the grievance fueling the rage animating Palestinian life and establish a deterrent to discourage departure from that paradigm. But Washington also frames this paradigm in the context of another: addressing the Palestinian problem insulates it from regional political forces and thus denies the region’s radicals the premier issue that galvanizes their following.  Moreover, a regional condominium to secure regional calm can be reached with the region’s premier challenger, Iran. Thus, Washington believed in two paradigms: 

  • a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem – which was a question of Palestinian need for self-governance and borders, not Israel’s existence — was essential, viable and would finally grant Israel its peace; and 
  • Iran could be reasoned with enough to reach a regional condominium to secure regional stability, if even at the cost of a modicum of accommodation of Iranian strategic objectives.

Beyond this more traditional but sadly flawed views of the problem, a rising progressive impulse grips the administration. Progressives hold that the violence of the American system and culture inherent to its slave-trade dominated founding perpetuates itself dressed deceptively in the clothes of freedom to perpetuate the aims of subjugation. Thus, the roots of Western political structure must be destroyed and replaced, not only its form adjusted. In foreign policy, this is paralleled by the idea that the inherent violence of colonialism perpetuates itself in the clothes of international order and sovereignty to preserve it subjugation. Thus, the roots of the international system must be fundamentally changed and “colonial” states dismantled and replaced. Israel as a colonialist state is thus the cause, the symbol and the poster-child of evil, and thus its very existence governs feverish levels of progressive fury born of the certainty of righteousness.

The Biden administration deepened its attachment after October 7 to the first two pre-October 6 paradigms, but it now also allows the third paradigm, the progressive rejection of the liberal West, to consume traditional American affinity with Israel. 

And yet, the vast majority of Israelis reject not only the progressive paradigm and the national suicide it requires, but also the first two paradigms.  Those in the governing coalition as well as even some parties out of it (Like Lieberman’s Israel Beiteynu), are post-paradigm collapse – all pre-October 6 paradigms, not just one.  Not only did the governing coalition in Jerusalem, but Israelis as a whole realize that Iran’s regime is entering a new phase of going in for final encirclement, strangulation and destruction of Israel, and thus no paradigm of arrangement or understanding can in any way be reached with Tehran’s tyranny, it also learned that the two-state paradigm was a fatal mirage.  Along the way, a flurry of underlaying assumptions collapsed:

  • Entrusting its security in any way to another force – either by subcontracting control over the area to that force or by trying to deter that force into behavior – failed catastrophically; 
  • Technology and qualitative military superiority can supplement manpower, territory, will, vigilance and fidelity to belief in the righteousness of Israel’s cause, but it can never replace them; 
  • Any Palestinian political entity will mobilize all aspects of Palestinian life and society with one purpose in mind: to advance the immutable goal of destroying Israel. Not only Hamas, but the PLO as well continue to understand Palestinian nationalism as the annulment of Jewish national identity and rights, and thus any power or sovereign benefit they secure is weaponized as part of a strategy to carry the aspiration of destruction of the annulled Jewish identity forward; 
  • Disdain and contempt, not grievance and despair, animate Palestinian rage.  The more the grievance was answered and the more despair was allayed, the deeper Palestinian contempt of Israel grew and the more deadly, relentless, and enflamed the violence against not only Israel, but the Jewish people and the very concept of Judaism itself, became;
  • Displaying a conciliatory nature did not purchase global credit to be redeemed as an insurance policy to address the consequences of the failed conciliation;
  • The Palestinian issue continued being the vehicle for both preserving and expressing regional and global pathologies; 
  • Feeding Palestinian aspirations nourishes and preserves rather than diminishes their use – as it had been intended by the Soviets — as part of a global assault (progressive or Islamist) on the West; 
  • Similarly, feeding Palestinian aspirations invigorated the Islamist imperative to finish Muhammad’s massacre of the Jews of Khaybar and eliminate all remaining Jews;
  • Obtaining Arab acquiescence in Israel’s existence failed to make Israel a normal nation and the Jews a normal people like any other and thus failed to retire once and for all history’s oldest ideology: Jew-hatred. Despite the profound hope to the contrary, the line recited every Passover that “in every generation there will arise those who will finish us off” cannot be omitted, and the imperative of remembering and vanquishing Amalek (the paradigm of those who seek our destruction) can never safely be forgotten; 
  • All Jews, not only Israelis, were under attack in an all-hands on deck moment on and since October 7; and finally,
  • The idea of “never again” demands payment through the steep cost of sacrifice and bravery of each new generation of Jews.

All the ideas and assumptions – both paradigms — that had commanded broad-based Israeli confidence and seized the obsession of Western foreign policy elites until October 6 were as mangled and destroyed among Israelis as the Israeli victims were themselves physically on October 7. 

And yet, both these paradigms and their series of underlying assumptions are being salvaged and re-sold to the Israelis to convince them to revert to an October 6 mindset. And all are rejected profoundly by Israelis who see each of them as folly that will lead to their destruction.

The result is that Jerusalem and Washington now live in different conceptual galaxies separated by unbridgeable space. No diplomacy or persuasion can bridge that gap. Israel is not acting out of ideology, policy preference or academic conflict-resolution theory. It forged its new paradigm primordially by the screams, blood and tears suffered by Jews as they had not suffered on any day since the gas chambers in Auschwitz, Dachau and other factories of death were destroyed on the last days of the Holocaust.  A cornered person facing a stark choice of death or resistance is not able to negotiate the terms in which he surrenders his life.  Neither is Israel. 

Across the seas, the Biden administration understands it cannot convince Israel – not only the government, but the vast majority of Israelis – of preserving the two previously-shared paradigms. And yet, it is unwilling to reconsider and travel with the Israelis in parallel and revisit its two paradigms either. Moreover, in addition to these two original paradigms, the Biden administration – and certainly many of its most influential staffers – appears increasingly motivated by ideology and creeping progressive neo-imperialism born of race-based “decolonization” ideology. In this progressive world view, Israel was invaded unprovoked, but its very existence is a provocative colonialist offense. Israeli women were raped, but rape is a Cri de Coeur of a desperate resistance. Babies were beheaded, but babies are settlers too and future oppressive soldiers. 

And thus, unable to shed its first two informing paradigms, and dangerously drifting toward a progressive outlook, the administration and its progressive camp in Washington seeks to use every lever of power to wring from Israel’s hands any agency and divert it toward an end it is determined to reject.  And while it is not unfolding along the pattern of the colonial invasions of old, the direction is relentless – to reduce Israel to a pliable vassal. For progressives, like their Bolshevik ancestors, power is an instrument to be used, not a device to be feared, to force a revolutionary idea into dominance. And the more progressive the Biden administration becomes, the more it displays these traits of tyranny and predation.

Who will prevail?

To consider which collection of paradigms – Israel’s or the increasingly progressive Biden administration’s — will prevail, one has to examine the stakes each possesses in vindicating its understanding.

In terms of the first two paradigms – the two-state solution and the condominium with Iran – failure is inevitable since both are paradigms anchored to a perception of reality that collapsed on October 7.  Moreover, Israel’s determination to survive is stronger than any foreign nation’s policy preferences.  

The  rising progressive dominance in the administration, however, is more complex. For progressives, the battle against not only Israel, but Judaism itself is one of ideological dominance and survival. The hatred of Jews – being an inextricable part of the Judeo-Christian philosophical culture that gave birth to America – let alone its anti-Zionist component, has become the vessel of all Western ideological pathologies to attack the idea of America. Thus, it cannot be surrendered any more than can the entire political edifice of progressivism.  It is truly the saloon in the old West; no town is big enough for both progressives and Jews, let alone Zionism.  This is undoubtedly a formidable, indeed twilight struggle of sorts.

And yet, the nature of Israeli sentiment is not only equally determined, but more so because it is not irreducible – it is fighting its second War of Independence – but personal.  Four millennia of stubborn Jewish survival will not end here. But it will prevail also because it emanates from the same sources of the American revolution: the impulse toward freedom by a people with a strong sense of independence.  When Menachem Begin declared the revolt against the British in the darkness of World War II, he quoted Patrick Henry’s famous speech, ending it with the cry for liberty at all costs – and thus he called his movement by the Hebrew word for “liberty,” Herut.  

The roots of a combined quest and destiny of freedom between the Jewish people and the American enterprise reach much further back, even further back than the frequent Biblical references of Abraham Lincoln. They reach back to the foundation of a unique American culture and are enshrined in the exchange of letters between Rabbi Moses Seixas of Newport (Touro Synagogue) and general Washington in 1790.  Rabbi Seixas, hoping to secure equal rights of participation in the American experiment of freedom, wrote to General George Washington: 

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine:

Rabbi Seixas here sets out a doctrine of freedom that defines America as a whole, not just its policy toward the Jews. The status of the Jews in the new country is seen to be the vehicle for establishing this doctrine of freedom, and a bellwether of its implementation.  In true Abrahamic tradition, Seixas suggests, the nation that treats its Jews well is guaranteed to thrive, and the ones that do not, are seen as doomed.

But what was the weld that fuses the American and Jewish story of freedom? Note that Rabbi Seixas attaches the word “generously affording to all” when asking that Jews be allowed the rights others will have. 

General Washington repeated those words in strikingly similar phrases back to Rabbi Seixas in his response:

All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.  It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Washington’s repetition of phrases not only validated Seixas’ words as is his own – but he made a marked change in words from Seixas’ phrase — “generously afforded” — to his own “all possess alike.” This change captured his intent to frame the Jewish question not as a governmental policy or preference – man-made granted reights — but as part of the overall inalienable, inherent right that all men are endowed by their creator at Mount Moriah, which echoed the declaration of independence’s “We are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.”  In other words, Washington deliberately intertwined the Jewish story in America with the American story of freedom. 

And it was thus through his answer to the Jews, and through his vision for the rights of the Jewish community then that he enunciated a much broader, foundational doctrine of tolerance and non-sectarian, and yet faith-based (rights endowed by our creator—inherently possesses, not generously granted) foundation and vision of America. The nation’s treatment of Jews was fused with the foundational idea of the very independence of the nation. And the treatment of Jews profoundly reflectes the health, power and survival of America and its central founding idea.

In short, from day one, and frankly all the way back to the earliest colonists, the American vision of itself was never distant from the Jewish question and the emergence of the vision of the US as the new Jerusalem.  It is what led the Steinbeck family to come to Palestine and try to set up an agricultural commune – only to be destroyed by the Ottomans.  It was what led Abraham Lincoln to contemplate raising an army of Jews to liberate Palestine and reestablish Israel.  And it was what led Mark Twain to say that the Holy land should be returned to the ownership of the Jews since only they seemed to have a spiritual attachment to it and ever did anything productive with it.

And so too now.  Standing with Israel during its Second War of Independence at this moment is not only a foreign policy preference, but it is intertwined with the test of our lifetime of our own land. And as long as America remains true to the founding ideals of America and reaffirms its grasp of the nation’s mettle and essence, thus will the progressive challenge fail in America and so too will its advocacy to turn hostile to Israel fail as well.

Confront Iran now, before it is too late

History will record Biden’s obsessive efforts to negotiate with the ayatollahs as one of the biggest self-inflicted wounds

The Middle East is tense, with Iran considering its response to Israel’s April 1 elimination of high-ranking Quds Force officers, and a possibly decisive Israeli attack in Rafah against Hamas terrorists pending. Commentary reverberates with worries about “escalation” and “wider war”, as if Hamas’s October 7 barbarity was not escalation enough, or Iran’s mandate to Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Iraq’s Shia militias thereafter is not already a wider war. 

Tehran’s ayatollahs have two overarching objectives: hegemony in the region and hegemony within Islam. Under its publicly declared “ring of fire” strategy, the brainchild of now-deceased Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani, Iran is now assaulting Israel. The “ring of fire” embodies Iran’s indirect efforts through belligerent terrorist proxies, combined with its own military forces, against Israel (and, not often mentioned, against Gulf Arab states). 

Israel’s pounding of Hamas means things are not going well for Iran, but the decisive strategic decisions, in both Jerusalem and Tehran, still lie ahead. 

Most likely to occur first, and strategically more important, is Iran’s answer to Israel’s strike against its Damascus embassy. Whether embassy territory is “sovereign” varies, but international conventions provide that diplomatic premises are “inviolable,” at least to the receiving state. Common sense, however, tells us that, like churches or hospitals, diplomatic premises lose any protected status if used for military purposes, and it is clear that Iran’s Damascus embassy is essentially a Quds force headquarters. 

Nonetheless, Israel has unmistakably challenged Iran, much like America’s early exit for Soleimani in 2020. The stakes for both Israel and Iran are enormous. If Tehran’s riposte to Jerusalem is perceived as weak or ineffective, it risks losing sway over its terrorist surrogates and others, dismayed by the ayatollahs’ unwillingness to risk additional harm to Iran while still leaving them in mortal peril. 

Alternatively, significant, direct Iranian retaliation could impel Israel to strike Iran itself. Or, if Iran acts indirectly through a proxy such as Hezbollah, Israel would feel justified in seeking to cripple Hezbollah, as its Gaza operation seeks to cripple Hamas. There is no doubt Hezbollah is the A-team of Iran’s terrorist proxies and the greater military threat to Israel. 

Whether Israel is prepared to fight a two-front war its government must decide, and there is no doubt that decision is now squarely presented. 

Appropriately or not, however, commentators and politicians have focused since April 1 not on Damascus, but on Israel’s mistaken attack in Gaza on a humanitarian organisation’s convoy. This emotional response has objectively benefited Hamas by again delaying Israel’s offensive against the terrorist group in Rafah; resurrecting calls for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire (ie, unlinked to releasing Israel’s Hamas-held hostages); and compounding Israel’s domestic and international political difficulties. 

The Biden administration has significantly contributed to Israel’s isolation, as its distaste for Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu becomes ever-more evident. The White House has now twisted itself into a pretzel, largely because it fears the Democratic Party’s Left-wing threat to withhold support this November in a close, hard-fought election. Sensing Biden’s political vulnerability, these progressives are amping up efforts to restrict or prohibit additional arms sales to Israel, potentially crippling Jerusalem’s ability to exercise its right of self-defence. 

For those worried about Republican isolationism threatening Ukraine aid, Democratic unwillingness to support Israel should provide no comfort about America’s role in the wider world. 

Biden’s unwillingness these past six months to recognise Iran as the central actor in the Middle East’s ongoing terrorist aggression has already materially damaged America’s support for Israel. History will record his administration’s obsessive efforts to negotiate with the ayatollahs as one of the biggest self-inflicted wounds in politico-military affairs. 

Biden is equally unable or unwilling to recognise that the real criminal in Gaza is Hamas, cynically abusing its own supporters and Gazans generally, not merely as human shields, but as cannon fodder to protect themselves, a war crime if there ever was one. 

The consequences of Biden’s weakness, and indecisiveness in Israel, are serious and lasting. Israel has for too long delayed the Rafah offensive. Further delay will only increase domestic and international complaining and second-guessing, without reaping the benefits of destroying the remainder of Hamas’s organised combat capabilities and seizing full control of Hamas’s massive tunnel system under Gaza. 

Mopping up residual Hamas guerrilla/terrorist activities will be time-consuming, but dismantling it means Israel is freer and less at risk if it must confront Hezbollah full on. Or confronting Iran and its nuclear-weapons programme now, before Iran has a reliable deliverable capacity. 

Israel should finish the job of destroying Hamas’s military and political organisations soonest. Also soonest, the United States and Europe should declare openly that Iran is the real threat to peace and security in the Middle East, and act accordingly. The fastest way to end the ongoing conflict is to defeat the aggressor.

This article was first published in The Telegraph on April 11, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Trump’s ‘Love’ Affair With Kim Looms Over U.S.-Japan Summit

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to Washington this week coincides with the re-emergence of a familiar threat: North Korea. On March 28, Russia vetoed what should have been a routine U.N. Security Council reauthorization of a panel monitoring sanctions on Pyongyang. Moscow’s veto reflected both unhappiness with the panel’s recent findings and a general fraying of relations between Russia and the U.S.

While the committee’s demise is unfortunate, the veto signaled something far more important: that the strengthening China-Russia axis is firmly resolved to protect its interests and those of its outriders, North Korea and Iran. China and Russia never fully shared the U.S. desire to keep the North from acquiring nuclear weapons. Getting them to agree to incremental sanctions required endless palavering, “full and frank exchanges,” and several near-shouting matches. But even that marriage of convenience is now gone.

Mr. Kishida’s visit highlights the stakes in a presidential election year. Unfortunately, neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump is fit to deal with Kim Jong Un’s rogue regime. Mr. Biden has followed Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” policy, increasing neither economic nor political pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear aspirations, nor otherwise seriously challenging the regime, nor even engaging in negotiations. As a result, North Korea has simply continued advancing its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. After more than a decade of “strategic patience,” we now know what such diplomatic jargon really means: doing nothing. While Washington has played the idle bystander, Mr. Kim has profited from the growing Russia-China collaboration, strengthening his relations with Moscow and better positioning himself to secure tangible benefits from both poles of the new axis.

On North Korea, a second Trump term would be as bad as the first. Three summits between the two leaders produced nothing concrete apart from Mr. Trump’s claims that he and Mr. Kim “fell in love.” As with all nuclear proliferators, time is on the side of the rogue state. With Mr. Trump in office, Pyongyang got four years closer to being able to deliver a nuclear weapon.

Continue reading on the Wall Street Journal. 

Are the Democrats beginning to step in the proverbial buffalo patties on Israel?

By David Wurmser, Ph.D.

The last week – corresponding ominously to the Ides of March — the Democratic establishment in the United States laid down the gauntlet to Israel’s government. A full court effort was made not only to weaken and oust Israel’s elected government, but to lean on Israel so hard that it would reconsider entering the last Hamas strongholds in Gaza in Rafiah and the Philadelphia corridor. 

The campaign took many forms and reached a crescendo on March 20.  In that one day, no less than three letters were released by progressive Jewish donors, progressive Jewish luminaries, and Democratic congressmen, demanding the Biden Administration take a much more hostile line against Israel. Across the pond, the United Kingdom announced that if Israel enters Rafiah, England will impose an arms embargo on Israel.  Canada did not wait and announced also on the 20th it was also imposing such an embargo.  Even Germany’s leader announced on the 20th that it was inconceivable that Israel enter Rafiah and that if it did so, there would be grave consequences – essentially echoing the U.K. position.  Moreover, he announced that Germany already was reevaluating all its defense contracts with Israel. 

Back in the States, a series of articles appeared a week earlier by “gurus” of Arab-Israeli affairs on the left side of the spectrum, such as Martin Indyk and Thomas Friedman, saying the United States had lost confidence in Israel’s prime minister.  Also in the week of March 11, Vice President Kamala Harris used a formulation generally reserved in American discourse of the most inimical tyrants and not democratic allies – differentiate “between the government of Israel and the people of Israel” – to describe US policy toward Israel.  And finally, Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer presented a shrill attack on Israel’s prime minister, lumping him together an as an enemy of peace on par with Hamas and essentially demanding new elections in Israel since the people of Israel have lost faith in the prime minister “who lost his way.”  On the 20th, Schumer followed up with another hostile act. Prime Minister Netanyahu was to give a briefing to both the Republican and Democratic caucus in Congress, but Majority Leader Schumer barred the Democratic caucus from meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

It was perhaps the most hostile week ever faced by Israel in the United States since its creation.

But then, suddenly, the next day, Majority Leader Schumer retreated and announced he was open to inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress.  Furthermore, on the heels of his call to oust the Israeli government earlier in the week – and after major donors said brazenly in their letter that the Biden team must lambast and oppose Israel because of the electoral threat emerging in key districts – Schumer asked that Israel not become a partisan issue.  In the terms of modern Washington, the unprecedented attack on Israel was followed within 24 hours by an unprecedented, humiliating retreat by the majority leader.

The Senate majority leader’s whiplash-inducing behavior should be examined very carefully since it reveals much. Indeed, it is key to understanding where the issue really stands right now.

It appears that the Biden team and Schumer imagined that they could wrap an anti-Israeli policy in garb focused on the unpopularity of Prime Minister Netanyahu not only in Israel, but among American Jews.  Vice Presdident Harris’ statement aimed squarely at that message: there’s a difference between the Israeli people and being anti-Israeli on the one hand and being anti-Netanyahu but not anti-Israeli on the other. So they thought they could appease the progressives by using the formula of Netanyahu’s being at fault for everything as the bridge to span over the chasm and embrace the anti-Israeli policies the progressives demand. That assumption, which is what Thomas Friedman, Martin Indyk and Vice President Kamala Harris peddled lately – indeed what the US intelligence community itself revealed in its estimate (also released publicly last week) and which Schumer plunged into, failed. Using the formulation, not only did Schumer fail to damage Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, he apparently failed to do so even within the US Jewish community.  The reason is that the assumption is flawed.  A Pew poll of the US Jewish community’s attitude toward the Israeli government from earlier in the month found that a decided majority (+10%), namely 54%, of American Jews hold a favorable view of the Israeli government.[1]    

Schumer is inescapably absorbing a tremendous political humiliation in his retreat. Not only was Schumer the point man for the administration in the Democratic leadership, but atop the Jewish community, in the last week in calling for new elections and blocking all access by Netanyahu to Congress, and thus his retreat is not just a minor political event.  The fact that Schumer faced so great and swift a backlash that it induced a spectacularly rapid display of political gymnastics is highly revealing. It means liberal Jews, who still do not like Netanyahu, nonetheless saw through this maneuver as simply a transparent scheme to be anti-Israeli while not appearing so.  And while, this is important, it also exposed something even more important than just the mood of the Jewish community.  It was a test between the power of the progressives and their tantrum-induced threats to bolt, and the traditionally liberal US Jewish community.

Nor is that test just a Jewish question. Even in terms of the narrow question of electoral politics in the much-discussed case of Michigan, the administration seems to make baffling, inconsistent choices if the state really matters so much. In Michigan, the progressive protest seems quite limited since the uncommitted vote – which was heralded as the protest vote – was almost exactly the same percentage as President Obama mustered in his last presidential election in Michigan. Moreover, it would seem that whatever marginal gain President Biden may gain in Michigan by lurching toward the progressive side is lost – and by far larger margins – by his decision (also on March 20) to force a 50% mandate of electric vehicles in US car sales rather than punt the decision to after November. This decision will likely cost him precious powerful autoworkers’ votes in droves – a community that constituted the backbone of industrial American blue-collar workers’ support for the Democrats — compared to the trickle of Arab voters he gains by abandoning Israel. In other words, if the margins are so tight in Michigan, and the state is so critical, then he paid a dollar in political capital to get a dime back.

So Senate majority leader Schumer lunged toward the progressives but then had to recoil back to the more center-left Jews.

Indeed, for him to overnight consider becoming an agent in bringing about a repeat of Netanyahu’s famous 2015 speech to Congress opposing the Obama administration’s JCPOA (“Iran nuclear”) deal and actually countenance inviting prime minister Netanyahu to address Congress jointly can only have happened if Schumer had faced a withering backlash from forces that matter to him. What are those forces that matter to him?

First is donors. The Democratic Party donor base on the national level still relies for more than 50% of its donations on liberal Jews. While some are progressive – like the Soros empire – others remain liberal and pro-Israeli.

Second are his voters. New York Jewish Democrats were loyal to him, but there is obviously an erosion that concerns him greatly in his own voter base in New York.  But recent polls –  a Sienna College poll in February — now suggest a majority (53-44%) of New York Jewish voters will vote not only Republican, but for Trump himself in the next elections.[2]  That the heart of Schumer’s own liberal Jewish voting block – New York state Jews – are nearly 10% more likely to vote for Trump that Biden is an earthquake.

Third, he is the Senate Majority Leader, and thus he is keen to ensure the Senate remains majority Democrat so that he keeps his leadership role. Up until today it was clear his concern was that the progressive threat to his majority leadership was emerging. Voices were challenging him and signaling he may face a challenge from that side. In order to stay on top of the Democratic caucus, he likely calculated he had to tack to the progressive left. And being a Jewish leader of such stature and reputation of being pro-Israeli, he felt immune from the potential backlash for taking such a line.  But what appears to be happening is that the centrist Democratic senators in the country where there is a significant Jewish vote are in danger of shifting to a Republican seat. If the Israeli issue causes a backlash among centrists and liberal Jews, he therefore may remain as the head of the Democratic caucus in more progressive garb, but the Democrats lose the majority of the Senate. One of the most important of those seats is currently held by the retiring Democratic senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. Maryland does have a substantial Jewish vote, most of whom consider themselves as liberals. And yet, Governor Hogan, who only last month announced as the Republican opponent to replace Cardin’s seat, has pulled substantially ahead in the polls against the Democratic candidate, David Trone, and Maryland may lose its Democratic seat. That alone would cost Schumer his majority leadership.

It is thus likely that Schumer is beginning to calculate the danger of losing the center, especially the liberal Jewish vote, the liberal Jewish donations, and even his own liberal Jewish base in New York – the three most important forces in his world.  The convergence of those three factors in backlash against his drift toward progressive positions on Israel would explain the humiliating and sudden turnabout that he displayed on March 21st in saying he is open to inviting Netanyahu to speak to Congress.

What this tells us is that pressure on Israel is right now may be at its apex. A backlash is beginning.  If the administration pushed any harder against Israel, it proceeds with great political risk unless it secures Israel’s indulgence or acquiescence – which at this stage it appears increasingly unlikely to grant. To descend into a bruising public fight with Israel would, in contrast, trigger the same backlash more broadly that Schumer just faced which forced him to back off.

For Israel, then, this moment is the most dangerous.  It faces immense pressure, and the administration is poised to lay more pressure on if it can get away with it.

If… 

The ‘if” is the key. Going forward, it appears that only when Israel demurs, abstains from taking the argument public and pushing back publicly, thus making it easier on the Biden administration to drift further toward appeasing the progressives. Biden will happily take whatever Israel allows him to appease the progressives.  In other words, things will get worse for Israel if it cuts its opponents, like the progressives, slack by making it easy on Biden and the Democratic leadership to drift that way without a cost to relations with Israel.

In contrast, it will peak and begin to get better for Israel as it begins to double down on its convictions and forces the issue into the public debate and onto the American political establishment. In short, in a real showdown, the backlash against selling Israel out comes into play and is dominant.  Schumer’s contortions worthy of a weasel is the perfect litmus test of that.

Which way will it go?  In the end, Israel is operating out of deep conviction rather than policy or ideological preferences – and it is doing so largely under a national consensus. October 7 was not only a trauma for Israel, but also a wake-up call.  Israel had not internalized that every aspect of Palestinian life – including any territory surrendered – was mobilized and contemplated by all Palestinians with a singular obsession of eradicating Israel. Schools and sports, health ministries to nature organization, were mobilized to prepare and indoctrinate with that singular focus. And antisemitism was cultivated as a strategic weapon internationally to isolate Jews and destroy not only the connection between Israel and key Western allies, but between those societies and the Jewish population.

And that is what Schumer and the administration miss.  The very fabric of the golden age of American Judaism – and the mutually enriching 350-year mutual history in this land – are being ripped.  The story so beautifully symbolized by the exchange of letters between General George Washington and Rabbi Seixas of Newport is in danger of being ended.

American values lay at the core of the flourishing of the American Jewish community.  So when the administration abandons Israel to Hamas, when a party’s leadership and political operatives argue that a small, radical group of progressive voters who openly declare their hostility to American values is more important than the legacy of the American-Jewish common story and values, then it inescapably is also understood by American Jews as a surrender of the American street to the antisemites who make their genocidal aims clear in campuses and business, hospitals and street protests. Indeed, when the US distances itself from Israel, it is inherently understood not only by American Jews also as an abandonment of them — leading to an existential anxiety Jews in American had not known until now – but also by Americans more generally about how deeply the assault on our national values has progressed.

And that is bad politics.


[1] “Poll shows 54% of US Jews have favorable view of Israeli government,” The Times of Israel, March 21, 2024 (7:51PM).

[2] Andrew Bernard, “Majority of New York Jewish voters intend to vote for Trump says new poll,” The JC, February 22, 2024.

Will Biden allow Hamas a ‘terrorist veto’?

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Humiliation in international affairs comes in many forms, often unexpectedly. It buried President Joe Biden on Friday, piling mortification onto his administration’s foreign policy cowardice.

First, the White House effectively abandoned Israel by sponsoring a Security Council resolution calling for an “immediate and sustained cease-fire” in Gaza. Then, unforeseen Russian and Chinese vetoes, cast almost for the fun of it, slapped America in the face. U.S. media, unfamiliar with U.N. performance art, has not fully appreciated the extent of Friday’s diplomatic reverses, although Biden added to his own problems on Monday by not vetoing yet another anti-Israel cease-fire resolution.

After weeks of negotiating one textual retreat after another, the U.S. draft resolution’s final, critical language was that the Security Council “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire,” and that “towards that end, unequivocally supports ongoing international diplomatic efforts to secure such a ceasefire in connection with the release of all remaining hostages.”

Previously, Washington vetoed three proposals not directly linking a cease-fire to freeing hostages and because council action could have derailed talks to reach a hostages-for-ceasefire deal. Washington had also circulated draft resolutions embodying this linkage, thus differing significantly from what Moscow and Beijing vetoed. One prior text reportedly expressed council “support for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practical, based on the formula of all hostages being released” and also “lifting all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale” in Gaza. Importantly, these earlier U.S. drafts had also called for a cease-fire “as soon as practical,” a far cry from “immediate,” which is now a concession almost impossible to reverse.

This time, however, the White House itself disconnected hostages from the cease-fire, albeit ambiguously, in a vain effort to bridge what is for Israel (and should have been for Biden’s negotiators) an unbridgeable gap. So clear was the priority to get agreement regardless of cost that one American diplomat conceded on Thursday that the U.S. draft was written for other countries to “read into it what they need to” to support it.

This is the kind of weakness that invites humiliation, which is precisely what happened. Ironically, it was Russian U.N. Ambassador Vasily Nabenzia who understood the domestic U.S. politics behind Washington’s motivation. He called the text “a diluted formulation” aimed to “play to voters and throw them a bone in the form of some kind of a mention of a cease-fire in Gaza.”

Europeans quickly took credit for shifting the U.S. view, foreshadowing new resolutions even more at variance with the administration’s initial post-Oct. 7 approach. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo boasted, “gradually other countries joined our position and the fact that the U.S. have adopted [it] too played a part.” French President Emmanuel Macron was even more explicit about Washington’s shift: “What’s important to note is that the United States has changed its position, and shown its will to defend, very clearly now, a cease-fire. For a long time, the Americans were reticent. That reticence is now gone.”

Indeed, on Monday, the U.S. abstained on the latest anti-Israel resolution, thereby allowing its adoption by all 14 other Security Council members. So doing will only strain Washington-Jerusalem relations even further, to the disadvantage of both.

However, Israel’s next moves to finish off Hamas are the real issue. There, Friday brought Biden more humiliation. Meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu unreservedly rejected postponing or canceling Israeli military action. Acknowledging Biden’s earlier support, Netanyahu declared, “but I also told him that we don’t have a way to defeat Hamas without going into Rafah, and eliminating the remaining battalions there. And I told him that I hope that we will do it with America’s support, but if we need, we will do it alone.”

The critical question is whether Biden agrees that Israel’s legitimate right of self-defense includes its clearly-stated objective of eliminating Hamas’s military and political capabilities. Fully backed by Iran, Hamas has barbarically precipitated Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. Having endangered its own civilians, Hamas hopes to save itself from destruction by persuading others to prevent an Israeli victory. If Biden’s ongoing intellectual confusion prevails, enabling Hamas to assert such a “terrorist veto” over legitimate self-defense, Israel will be permanently weakened. So too will global anti-terrorism efforts, with fatal consequences for even more innocent victims. America should flatly reject the concept of a “terrorist veto.”

Biden’s declining support for Israeli self-defense is intimately tied to his failing effort (so far) to topple Netanyahu’s government. Ironically, hoping that ousting Netanyahu will solve the Israel “problem” reveals Biden’s fundamental misreading of Israeli politics, which are always complex, especially now. Whatever Netanyahu’s personal approval ratings, his war cabinet, which includes several prominent political rivals, faces no substantial dissent from its anti-Hamas military objectives. In fact, by attacking Netanyahu, Biden has likely strengthened him through a backlash against outside interference.

Israel’s attack on Hamas in Rafah could come at any moment, and victory there could be a decisive turning point in the struggle against the ultimate aggressor: Iran. This is not the time for the United States to show weakness, especially at the U.N.

Jerusalem is following Winston Churchill’s insight, “without victory, there is no survival.” Washington should concur.

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Trump from 2018 to 2019 and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006. He held senior State Department posts in 1981-83, 1989-93 and 2001-2005.

This article was first published in The Hill on March 26, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Both Biden and Trump are foreign-policy flops, argues John Bolton

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SADLY, FOR America and the world, neither candidate in this November’s election is fit to be president. Polling shows voters did not want a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, but that’s what they’re getting.

A president’s most important national-security responsibility is to identify the risks and opportunities facing America, and to craft ways to thwart the threats and advance the country’s interests. Whether because of incompetence, fading mental capabilities or, worst of all, succumbing to domestic political pressures, Mr Biden and Mr Trump have repeatedly proven unable to perform this mission. For years both have fared poorly at distinguishing friend from foe, a pretty low bar even for neophytes, let alone those seeking another turn in the Oval Office.

Mr Trump’s increasingly strident threats to withdraw America from NATO, for example, came perilously close to reality at the alliance’s summit in 2018. America dodged a bullet then, and Mr Trump’s short attention span kept him from resurrecting the idea before his term ended. Subsequently, however, he has repeatedly insinuated or explicitly advocated withdrawal. Recently, he rejected protecting NATO members whose defence spending did not meet their commitments.

Mr Trump is serious, but supporters and opponents alike discount the extraordinary risk of America leaving NATO. They call his bluster “negotiating tactics” to spur defence-spending increases, or just “Trump being Trump”. This is a grave error. His complaints about NATO or allies like Japan or South Korea shirking their responsibilities are intended not to strengthen America’s alliances but to be grounds for abandoning them. Some believe his most recent comments suggest he is becoming less inclined to withdraw from NATO. Don’t bet on it.

Mr Trump’s views on NATO assisting Ukraine after Russia’s invasion are similarly dangerous. Nonsensically, Mr Trump has said he could solve the conflict in 24 hours. Even worse, just weeks ago Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister and a friend of Mr Trump, said that Mr Trump “will not give a penny into the Ukraine-Russia war and therefore the war will end…[I]f the Americans do not give money the Europeans are unable to finance this war on their own.” Granted, with Mr Trump nothing is ever final until it is, and sometimes not even then, but the pattern is unmistakable.

Mr Biden is comparably flawed. In today’s Middle East conflict, he sees only a war between Israel and Hamas. He is unable or unwilling to grasp that Iran is assaulting Israel on several fronts through terrorist proxies. Despite initially embracing Israel and (literally) its prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, Mr Biden’s crabbed strategic sense now has him cowering under pressure from the Democrats’ anti-Zionist left wing. Rather than responding to Iran’s long-standing “ring of fire” squeeze against Israel, America is reducing political support for Israel, and there are threats from the White House and congressional Democrats to impose conditions on military aid that could reduce or eliminate it. Mr Biden is effectively granting moral equivalence between Hamas’s terrorist atrocities on October 7th and Israel exercising its legitimate right to self-defence.

The atrocities committed by Hamas (not to mention by Houthis, Hizbullah and Iraqi Shia militia) over decades have been unspeakable, as has Hamas’s ability to get away with inflicting suffering on its own people. Mr Biden has been duped, as have many others in the West, which is why they primarily blame Israel for civilian casualties. He fails to see that Hamas is at fault for civilian casualties through callously intermingling Gazan civilians with its own fighters and war infrastructure. Neither Hamas nor anyone else acquires a “terrorist veto” over Israel’s right to self-defence by sacrificing their own innocents.

Mr Biden, confused and beleaguered, echoed Hamas’s demands for a ceasefire, essential for Hamas to buy time to regroup, resupply and continue its war. Iran’s other terrorist proxies are preparing for a long struggle, with the Houthis, for example, now claiming to have acquired hypersonic missiles to continue trying to close the Red Sea and Suez canal passage to international commerce.

Instead of focusing on the real culprits—Iran and the terrorists—Mr Biden now criticises Israel. Releasing “intelligence” that suits his objectives, he implies that Israel’s government could fall if it doesn’t bend to his views, and that Israel’s policies will foster terrorism for a generation. Mr Biden backed Chuck Schumer’s demand for Israeli elections to oust Mr Netanyahu, saying the majority leader of America’s Senate “expressed serious concern shared not only by him, but by many Americans”.

Both candidates’ views of China offer further evidence of their foreign-policy flaws. Mr Biden spent his first term trying not to offend China, so as not to interfere with his holy grail of bilateral agreement on climate change. No deal emerged, and China wouldn’t have kept to it anyway. Meanwhile, China’s menace continued growing around its long Indo-Pacific periphery. Mr Trump’s holy grail with China was “the biggest trade deal in history”. He may still want that, but for now he blames China for covid-19 and hence for depressing his vote in 2020, thereby making it easier for Mr Biden to “steal” the election. He is instead calling for massive tariffs (his go-to answer on international problems) on Chinese goods, while misguidedly disparaging Taiwan for stealing America’s microchip industry.

Mr Biden and Mr Trump certainly both believe they will benefit politically from their respective approaches. Unfortunately, their understanding of America’s proper place in the world, and of the threats facing it and other Western democracies, is badly flawed, as are their responses. Many American voters despise both candidates, and with good reason. To the delight of America’s enemies, whichever of them wins, a long, grim four years lie ahead.

John Bolton was America’s national security adviser from 2018 to 2019 and its ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006.

This article was first published in The Economist on March 21, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Biden’s incoherent Israel approach only prolongs the conflict — and the Gaza suffering

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President Biden’s dealings with Israel are increasingly incoherent.

His objectives are confused and contradictory; he ignores Iran, the region’s biggest menace; he failed to secure a pre-Ramadan cease-fire-for-hostages deal; and his efforts to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza are ill-conceived and ineffective, tragically likely to aid Hamas more than the innocent.

Biden should return to Square 1: Support Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense.

But his logic, such as it is, has more to do with domestic American politics than with the Middle East.

Ironically, therefore, he may be ensuring his own defeat this November.

Consider the administration’s efforts on humanitarian aid to Gaza civilians.

Biden had steadfastly refused to acknowledge that the central problem is not the volume of assistance available.

Instead, it is critical security concerns to (a) avoid “aid” shipments bringing in weapons, ammunition and supplies Hamas needs to continue its barbarism and (b) ensure that once legitimate supplies enter Gaza, Hamas does not hijack them for its own use.

These are not small issues.

Since the World War I origins of American international benevolence, our fundamental precepts have required aid go only to noncombatants and be delivered by neutral parties (or, at the very least, closely monitored) to avoid diversion.

Herbert Hoover’s Commission for Relief in Belgium established these conditions, which were intended to increase aid flows by giving donors confidence the aid was not misappropriated.

These are the correct humanitarian principles, but the conditions to implement them do not now exist in Gaza.

From Oct. 7 forward, there were reports of Hamas hoarding and diverting key supplies, and these incidents have only increased over time.

Biden appears not to care or understand that his approach is not more, but decidedly less, humanitarian because of its collateral effects of sustaining Hamas and prolonging the conflict.

His administration is resorting to virtue-signaling gimmicks and publicity stunts rather than focusing on pressing security issues.

Air-dropping assistance into Gaza, especially as Team Biden is implementing it, is a case in point.

By contrast, after the first Gulf War in 1991, President George H.W. Bush demonstrated the right way to air-drop supplies, rendering critical humanitarian assistance to Kurdish refugees fleeing Saddam Hussein’s vengeance.

On the ground, the Pentagon stationed drop-zone controllers to create order, ensuring the materials did not kill the intended beneficiaries when they landed, as recently happened in Gaza.

US logistical personnel, protected by security forces, also prevented the supplies from being seized on a “first-come, first-served” basis, which is also happening in Gaza.

Bush’s aid did reach its intended beneficiaries, unlike in Gaza, where we have no assurance Hamas terrorists did not expropriate the bulk of the air-dropped assistance.

Biden’s latest gambit of constructing a pier in Gaza to receive sea shipments is simply more showmanship.

The administration was quick to stress there would be no US “boots on the ground,” meaning, once again, no security forces to protect those constructing the temporary pier or those eventually off-loading supplies.

And building the pier might take as long as two months, which hardly addresses allegedly urgent needs.

Ship inspections in Cypress can partly reduce the risk of vessels transporting weapons to Hamas, but there is no guarantee those in real need will receive the aid and not Hamas.

Although unwilling to criticize its major donor, even the United Nations concedes land delivery of assistance is “more cost- and volume-effective.”

The worst part of Biden’s incoherence is its focus on the crisis’ symptoms rather than the crisis itself.

The problem is, first and foremost, Hamas.

It continues exploiting purportedly humanitarian concerns like Israeli hostages and Gaza civilians to advance its own politico-military objectives.

Only when Hamas can no longer leverage its barbaric capability to wage terrorist war, including by preventing the effective supply of humanitarian aid, will the problem disappear.

That has been Israel’s stated objective from the beginning.

Contrary to Biden’s recent comments, it is emphatically not a US “red line” for Israel to continue its efforts, in Rafah specifically, to finish the job.

Eliminating the terrorist threat is good geopolitical strategy, as well as good humanitarian logic.

And for Biden, it may be the only way to avoid further splitting the Democratic Party and becoming a one-term president.

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Donald Trump, 2018-19, and US ambassador to the United Nations, 2005-06.

This article was first published in New York Post on March 14, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Trump Should Lay Off NATO, Target the U.N.

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By John Bolton

Donald Trump’s assault on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began in his first term and has continued as he campaigns for a second. NATO certainly has its problems, as Henry Kissinger argued in “The Troubled Partnership: A Re-Appraisal of the Atlantic Alliance” (1965). But it serves U.S. national-security interests. Undermining U.S. strength by eroding alliances hardly amounts to an America-first agenda. Further, Mr. Trump’s focus on NATO shields from scrutiny the United Nations and other international institutions that are much more inimical to America.

Mr. Trump’s acolytes recognize that his NATO withdrawal threats have kicked up problems. Tellingly, however, their efforts to clean up after him are themselves unwise and unworkable. They unintentionally reflect the irrationality of Mr. Trump’s longstanding effort to debilitate NATO and his blunderbuss approach to world affairs generally.

One MAGA-world alternative to complete withdrawal is creating a “two-tier NATO,” in which any member not meeting the 2014 Cardiff summit commitment to spend 2% of gross domestic product on defense wouldn’t receive alliance protection. This notion is toxic to alliance solidarity and impractical. Iceland, a NATO member, has no military and therefore spends nothing on defense. I never discussed Iceland with Mr. Trump, but I expect he’d question why it was even allowed in NATO. The simple answer: Look at a map. Shall we concede Iceland to Russia or China so it can “persuade” Reykjavik to allow naval and air bases there?

Consider the vulnerability of Poland, the Baltics and others on Russia’s periphery. Because of geography, they are at risk no matter how high their defense spending—and all now exceed the Cardiff target. NATO deterrence provides their only real protection. If that deterrence recedes or fails, the Moscow-Beijing axis will seize these low-hanging fruit, notwithstanding that they satisfy Trump accounting rules.

Finally, a two-tiered NATO would be untenable in combat, logistics and communications. Imagine that Russia invades Poland. The U.S. springs to its aid, but Russia advances close to the German border. The U.S. field commander calls his Russian counterpart to say: “You can do whatever the hell you want in Germany. Please excuse us while we retreat to the next NATO country that spends 2% of its GDP on defense. We’ll see you there if you attack them after you finish Germany.” The Russians are already enjoying vodka toasts over a two-tiered NATO.

Another Trump World proposal is to impose tariffs on NATO member countries that don’t reach the 2% spending level. Presumably, this logic also applies to non-NATO allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia if Mr. Trump believes they aren’t carrying their fair share of the defense burden. This gambit is a non sequitur to everyone but Mr. Trump, for whom international problems are nails crying out for his tariff hammer. Penalizing the economies of U.S. allies to encourage them to increase defense spending sounds like “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

More practically, on what authority could Mr. Trump draw to impose such tariffs? Even a Republican-controlled Congress, which is far from certain, is highly unlikely to give him new tariff authority. Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, often cited in Mr. Trump’s first term, applies when foreign actions are “unreasonable or discriminatory, and burden or restrict U.S. commerce.” That hardly covers sovereign defense-spending decisions we happen not to like.

Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Act, authorizing tariffs to protect American national security, is closer to the mark. Mr. Trump used Section 232 to impose tariffs on Canadian and European steel and aluminum imports, thereby proving, unsurprisingly to everyone but Mr. Trump, that penalizing your allies doesn’t weaken your adversaries. Obviously, the opposite is true: we should be unifying allies against China economically as well as politically, not splitting the camp of those harmed by Chinese intellectual-property piracy and harmful trade policies.

Even if all NATO members reached the Cardiff targets, the spending issue wouldn’t disappear. Facing mounting global threats, Washington’s defense budgets need to increase to Reagan-era levels, perhaps 5% to 6% of GDP from the current 3.5%. Inevitably, therefore, NATO members (and other allies globally) will have to increase to perhaps a 4% minimum. Getting to 2% is the easy part. The Trump-mitigating proposals are untenable, evanescent, and inadequate to keep NATO strong.

Besides, there are better targets for MAGA ire. Mr. Trump could usefully wreak havoc on the U.N. As I said 30 years ago, you could lose the top 10 floors of the U.N. Secretariat building and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. Things have only gotten worse.

In 2022, Washington spent about $18.1 billion across the U.N. system, far more than any other contributor. Contributions are made via several methods in a complex, nearly incomprehensible system, most commonly through “assessed” contributions, with the U.S. generally paying 22% of agency budgets so funded. Washington has had limited success in constraining U.N. budgets, and has often itself prompted significant increases.

Assessed contributions are functionally taxes. Contrary to what some Trump supporters have said, defense expenditures aren’t. We need to spend on our defense whether we have allies or not. Allies help reduce that burden. The U.N. only makes it heavier.

One powerful reform would be shifting from assessed contributions to wholly voluntary ones. America and other members would pay only for what they want and insist they get value for money. Even if only the U.S. switched unilaterally to voluntary contributions, it would create a tsunami that could fundamentally change the entire U.N. Or not, in which case at least we wouldn’t be paying for it.

There is no chance any U.N. component will ever voluntarily adopt such a system, because the U.S. has been the U.N.’s cash cow since 1945. Instead, a President Trump could simply say we are moving to voluntary contributions whether anyone else does or not. Under Article 19 of the U.N. Charter, failure to pay assessments for two years running could cost a country its vote in the General Assembly, but that loss is insignificant. General Assembly votes are nonbinding, and the U.S. carries no more weight than Vanuatu or Eritrea.

America’s Security Council vote, and therefore its veto power, is totally secure, guaranteed by the charter’s Article 27, and the charter itself can’t be amended without consent from all permanent members, including the U.S., per Article 108.

For those U.N. specialized agencies and programs already funded voluntarily, Inauguration Day would present immediate opportunities to defund some entirely and reduce funding for others. In his first term, Mr. Trump defunded the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, a decision Joe Biden reversed. Given that some Unrwa employees joined Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, defunding it should be a top priority.

As Washington implemented a switch to voluntary contributions, it would face important decisions on continuing membership in several U.N. entities, decisions which would involve not merely defunding, but withdrawing from them completely. The U.S. has been in and out of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for decades, withdrawing first under Ronald Reagan, inexplicably rejoining under George W. Bush. Mr. Trump took us out again, and Mr. Biden again returned. A Trump win should guarantee a third withdrawal, hopefully for good. Mr. Trump also served notice of withdrawing from the Universal Postal Union but later backed down. UPU warrants another look.

Beyond massive changes in U.N. funding and membership, Mr. Trump should insist that an American become U.N. secretary-general when António Guterres’s term expires in December 2026. Although I have no prospect of and no desire for a position in Mr. Trump’s second-term administration, I would be available as our candidate for secretary-general.

The ultimate question is whether America should withdraw from the U.N. altogether. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick was once asked that question. She paused, then answered: “No, it’s not worth the trouble.”

Although technically part of the U.N., international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank should also be carefully re-examined. On the IMF, Mr. Trump should read the seminal 1998 op-ed in these pages by George Shultz, William Simon and Walter Wriston, “Who Needs the IMF?” No one has answered the question adequately.

Not since the Reagan administration has there been a comprehensive review of multilateral foreign assistance. Proponents long argued that multilateral development banks help Washington mobilize development resources, but private capital is now far more widely available than when they were founded. Multilateral foreign aid only marginally advances U.S. national-security interests, but these banks have powerful Washington lobbies. Mr. Trump should mark them down for defunding or withdrawal. That would free up greater resources for bilateral foreign assistance, which, if implemented effectively, can advance core American interests.

Finally, a wall of pretend international courts—including the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the Law of the Sea Treaty’s tribunal and the World Trade Organization’s dispute-resolution process—are already on history’s ash heap, or on their way there. Clearing away what remains is still important work. In his first term, Mr. Trump stymied the WTO judicial mechanism, and even the Biden administration has kept it stymied so far. Mr. Trump’s focus shouldn’t be limited to international trade, but to all manifestations of emerging “global governance,” heartily encouraged under Mr. Biden and Barack Obama.

A related issue is arms control, particularly how to handle a potential renewal of the New Start Treaty. Although we persuaded Mr. Trump in 2019 to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces and Open Skies treaties with Russia, New Start was never much of an issue. Mr. Trump’s desire to cozy up to Vladimir Putin may give Mr. Putin an opportunity to cajole Mr. Trump into negotiations to extend New Start. Mr. Trump should resist any such temptation. Moreover, any strategic weapons negotiations should include China as well as Russia, given China’s rising nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities.

Mr. Trump rightly never expressed support for the “rules-based international order” the left loves to conjure. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Hamas’s barbaric attack on Israel, and countless other examples demonstrate, there is no such thing. A president who truly grasps this can reawaken Americans to the necessity of operating from positions of strength in the world, not high-minded rhetoric and virtue-signaling.

NATO and other U.S. politico-military alliances aren’t acts of charity, and they are fundamentally different from the U.N., the international financial institutions and the global-governance project. We founded and support NATO because it serves hard U.S. national-security interests, not because of warm feelings for Europeans or abstract notions of “democracy.”

Nobody is going to defend us or maintain an international system favoring America if we don’t. That requires spending the necessary resources and extending our reach through alliances like NATO. If we reduce our defense capabilities or retreat from positions of strength, others will fill the vacuum, invariably to our disadvantage.

This article was first published in The Wall Street Journal on March 8, 2024. Click here to read the original article.