The New Iranian President and Donald Trump

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Masoud Pezeshkian probably never expected to become Iran’s President, nor did most of his countrymen, nor the outside world.  Whatever the reasons for his success, Pezeshkian’s victory means only that Tehran now shows a smiley face to foreigners rather than a mean face.  Beneath surface appearances, nothing substantive has changed.

Westerners especially have long misunderstood that Iran’s elected Presidency does not hold decisive political power, certainly not on Tehran’s critical national-security priorities like nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and supporting innumerable terrorist groups.  Ayatollah Khamenei is the Supreme Leader, like his predecessor and father of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.  “Supreme Leader.”  That title tells you everything.

Elections for Iran’s presidency are hardly free and open.  To start, only candidates satisfactory to the Guardian Council may run, and the Council has never been slack in applying rigid ideological standards.  The races are ultimately never more than hardline-hardliners running against moderate-hardliners.  If the Guardian Council had wanted to exclude Pezeshkian from the election, they could have.  If they wanted to ensure he lost, they could have allowed multiple “moderates” in the race and only one “hardliner.”  Instead, they did the opposite, and Pezeshkian prevailed.  If the regime had really been worried about such an outcome, it would simply have stolen the election, as in 2009.  Interestingly, voter turnout figures remain hotly disputed, so we may never know exactly how many people legitimately cast ballots.

Until the regime finally issues a definitive statement on why Pezeshkian’s predecessor, Ebrahim Raisi, died in a helicopter crash, questions about regime stability will linger.  Whatever the cause of the crash, Pezeshkian is an accidental President.  For Raisi, the presidency may well have been but a steppingstone, given Khamenei’s age and infirmities.  He had been fingered by the Supreme Leader and others as potentially Iran’s third Supreme Leader upon Khamenei’s death or incapacity.  Pezeshkian, by contrast, seems to be a temporary fill-in, even more of a figurehead than other Presidents, until the key ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guard decide how to proceed.

Over 45 years, Iran’s two Supreme Leaders, through successive presidencies, have never deviated from their fundamental national-security precepts:  (1) pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile delivery capabilities;  and (2) creating and enhancing multiple terrorist proxies across the Middle East and globally.  These have been foundational both to Tehran’s hegemonic regional ambitions and its broader aspirations for dominance in the Islamic world.  No mere substitute President is going to obstruct that strategic vision.

What Pezeshkian does for the mullahs is to provide what Russians call “maskirovka”:  camouflage that disguises Iran’s real foreign policy.  Like other puppets and front men Tehran has used over the years, including former Foreign Minister Javid Zarif and Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator now nestled comfortably at Princton, Pezeshkian is a walking, talking disinformation campaign.  Susceptible Westerners, longing for resumed nuclear talks with Iran, now have a straw to grasp at.  Nothing will come from any resumed diplomacy, of course, because there is no sign Iran the Supreme leader has made a strategic decision to change course.

Ironically, therefore, the mullahs have scored a public-relations coup by having an empty suit like Pezeshkian replace Raisi, widely called “the butcher of Tehran” for his judicial role in ordering executions of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of political prisoners.   If Pezeshkian chooses to attend the UN General Assembly opening in New York this September, one can imagine the welcome America’s credulous media and academic institutions will afford him.  He smiles, he waves, he acts informally, perhaps he likes progressive jazz, maybe he drinks a little Scotch whiskey in private (who knows!), he must want to make a deal the United States!

US liberals and the Biden Administration can dream about this scenario, but they may not be in office after November’s election.  Even if they were, of course, the compliant Pezeshkian they imagine would not be making nuclear-weapons policy, nor would his Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, chief negotiator of the 2015 nuclear deal.  Americans are all too apt to succumb to the diplomatic phenomenon known as “mirror imaging,” where negotiators look across the table and see people just like themselves:  reasonable men and women simply looking to find practical solutions to shared problems.  That’s exactly opposite from how the Islamic Revolution views the outside world.

Instead, if Donald Trump wins, now more likely than ever after the failed July 13 assassination attempt, his propensity to treat national-security issues simply as opportunities for making deals could lead to a Trump-Pezeshkian get-together.  French President Emmanuel Macron almost seduced Trump into meeting with Zarif on the margins of the Biarritz G-7 in August, 2019.  Trump’s “zeal for the deal” brought him within an eyelash of seeing Zarif, and foreshadows a contemporary version of that meeting early in a new Trump term.  It may take second place to Trump visiting North Korean leader Kim Jung Un in Pyongyang to reopen nuclear negotiations, but it suits Trump’s singular focus on personal publicity.

Thus, while Pezeshkian’s election as President may not have been conscious Iranian maskirovka, there is no doubt the Supreme Leader and his cohorts can take advantage of the opportunity presented if they so choose.  Such circumstances do not mean a new nuclear deal would emerge, since that would certainly not be Tehran’s negotiating objective.  Instead, the mullahs would be playing for more time, which is uniformly beneficial to would-be nuclear proliferators, hoping to achieve a nuclear-weapons capability, and then to decide how to employ it.  The same would be true for Iran’s terrorist objectives in the region and beyond.  Trump would not even realize he was playing according to the Supreme Leader’s script.

Although the unsuspecting Masoud Pezeshkian may not realize it, he may be exactly the gift the ayatollahs never thought to ask for.

This article was first published in the Independent Arabia on July 16, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Biden Goes to Extremes to Appease Tehran

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The world has truly turned upside down when a U.S. president begs America’s allies to have a United Nations agency go easy on a terrorist nuclear proliferator. The Biden administration’s reported pleading on behalf of Iran isn’t merely a tactical error about yet another biodegradable U.N. resolution. It’s a persistent strategic blindness that existentially threatens key U.S. partners and endangers our own peace and security.

Iran’s largely successful effort to conceal critical aspects of its nuclear-weapons complex from scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Western intelligence services is nearing culmination. IAEA reports about Iran’s uranium-enrichment program—and Tehran’s disdain for IAEA inspections, extending over two decades—finally have the Europeans worried.

Instead of welcoming this awakening, President Biden is reportedly lobbying European allies to avoid a tough anti-Iran resolution at this week’s quarterly IAEA board of governors meeting. The administration denies it. But limpness on Iran’s nuclear threat fits the Obama-Biden pattern of missing the big picture, before and after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, including cash-for-hostages swaps with Iran as recently as last year.

Mr. Biden has two objectives. The first is to keep gasoline prices low and foreign distractions to a minimum before November’s election. The second is the Obama-Biden obsession with appeasing Iran’s ayatollahs, hoping they will become less medieval and more compliant if treated nicely. Both objectives are misguided, even dangerous.

Election worries about gas prices have also weakened U.S. sanctions against Russia, which are failing because of their contradictory goals. It simply isn’t possible to restrict Russian revenue while keeping U.S. pump prices low. The ayatollahs don’t worry about elections, but they know weakness when they see it, including Mr. Biden’s relaxed enforcement of sanctions on Iranian oil exports.

Mr. Biden’s greater mistake is refusing to acknowledge Iran’s “ring of fire” strategy to intimidate Israel and achieve regional hegemony over the oil-producing monarchies and other inconvenient Arab states. The foundational muscle for achieving these quasi-imperial aspirations is Iran’s nuclear program, precisely the issue at the IAEA. Starting in his 2020 campaign, Mr. Biden repeatedly alienated Gulf Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia, which felt particularly threatened by his zeal to rejoin the failed 2015 nuclear deal. Mr. Biden’s willingness to exclude Israel and the Arabs from negotiations with Tehran, as Mr. Obama did, convinced Arab governments that Washington was again hopelessly feckless. Israel concurred.

Arab leaders privately see the need to eliminate Tehran’s terrorist proxies. Saying so publicly, however—even quietly—requires political cover, which Washington has failed to provide. The Biden administration could have sought to destroy, not merely inhibit, the Iran-backed Houthis’ capacity to close shipping routes in the Suez Canal and Red Sea. Since the U.S. failed to do so, rising prices from higher shipping costs increase the risk of a de facto Iran-Houthi veto over freedom of the seas. Not surprisingly, Iran now threatens to blockade Israel itself.

Mr. Biden decided to concentrate world attention on Gaza rather than on Iran as the puppet-master. Doing so has helped obscure that Gaza is only one component of the larger ring-of-fire threat. Many Israelis, including several members of the war cabinet, have long focused on the close-to-home threat of Palestinian terrorists rather than the existential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. This joint failure enabled Tehran’s propaganda to outmatch Jerusalem’s, leaving the false impression of a moral equivalence.

Had the U.S. and Israel explained the barbarity of Oct. 7 in such broader strategic terms, they would necessarily have concentrated attention on Iran’s coming succession crisis. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is old and ailing. President Ebrahim Raisi’s still-unexplained demise has already launched a succession struggle that could transform Iran. The U.S. and its allies should help the Iranian opposition fracture the Islamic Revolution at the top. Instead, Mr. Biden, who couldn’t conceive of overthrowing the ayatollahs, has dispatched envoys to beg Iran not to stir things up further before November.

Sending Tehran what diplomats call a “strong message” from the IAEA isn’t much, but treating Iran as if it calls the shots is far worse. Praying that Mr. Biden wakes up to reality may be the world’s only hope.

This article was first published in the Wall Street Journal on June 4, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

From October 7 to Eurovision: Are we seeing a sea change starting in Western culture?

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By David Wurmser, Ph.D.

Something is changing.  The Western world was asleep, adrift, and decaying. But then came the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. It instantly became a clarifying moment for Israelis – something which put them at odds even with their own elites, let alone the rest of the world.  They were fighting for the very survival they thought they had reliably secured. But then came the campus frenzies against American Jews, as well as European Jewish communities, which became a clarifying moment for young American and European Jews and their families. And then the burning of American flags and the ensuing flag wars in the Palestine Encampments, the “little Gazas” as Senator Tom Cotton calls them, across American academia, in war memorials and on the streets, which became a clarifying moment for many Americans.  And now we see the Eurovision song contest, which became a clarifying moment on the European continent. What started in the horrific shock of the depth of human moral depravity exhibited on October 7 appears to have a profound series of direct and ripple effects across the West, baring bankrupt elites, exposing rising new ones, and perhaps even signaling a return to the values and ideas grounding Western identity and civilization.

Everyone approached their clarifying event differently, as it was filtered through deep questions of identity, culture, pride and security – all issues unique to each of the communities mentioned.  But there is across the broad a common theme: elites have failed and the populations – the common man – are stepping up to the plate. And they are all showing remarkable sobriety, resolve, leadership and moral lucidity in contrast to their drifting, weak, sheep-like and morally conflicted elites.


Israel is perhaps the easiest to grasp and understand. So much of the country donned their uniforms and for months – without internet, without social media – fought for their very lives.  They came together in unity and wanted nothing short of full victory. They held a common sense of purpose. They defended their families and their homes and buried their friends and loved ones.  They braved the missiles and sent another generation of their young children to battle.

Israelis all retreated more into their identity and deeper connection with the experience and trajectory of their 4000-year history that had been shunted onto the sidetrack of their culture for decades. Israeli soldiers took strength and meaning from their Jewish history, heritage and for many, their religion.  The drift and complacence of Israeli society ended and its delusion burst that it had transcended its 4000-year fate and had became a normal nation among nations in a region that no longer sought to eradicate it. Wisdoms, admonitions, and enemies from the Bible sprang back to life and were reanimated in the Israeli psyche. Israel was suddenly intensely Jewish – for some in a religious, for others culturally and historic sense.  Israel was fighting Amalek, and it was a unified family fighting to survive a siege.

But all Israelis understood one thing: what was before October 6 – the failed acrimonious debates, the intensity of brotherly hatred, and the bizarre perversion of elites – political, social and media — that relished the rising divisions as Roman emperors once did both in commanding and enjoying the mortal combat of gladiators – cannot be any more. 

The debates now are shelved, the brothers fighting and dying shoulder to shoulder, and the elites in all sectors of society awaiting their verdict to go home which will come as soon as the guns fall silent.  Israel will have a rebirth, and it will need a new elite to do so. All Israelis understand now they were in one boat; disagreements were and still will be there but the fate of all was common. 

So now, a new Israeli, akin to the World War II generation of Americans, is being forged from the horrors of the dark Sabbath of October 7 and the grit of the battlefields of Gaza, Judea, Samaria, the Golan and Lebanon. 

American and European Jews

American and European Jews grasped early, as well, that this was about them too.  They quickly began to rally behind Israel and pay closer attention to their cousins. Their plight was neither theoretical nor separate.  Jewish communities across the globe instinctively knew that the fate of Israel was their fate.  Soon, the war thousands of miles away came closer and closer personally to them, not just their cousins.  The taboo on antisemitic rhetoric in polite society was broken.  There were random attacks on Jews – some fatal — and antisemitic hate crimes skyrocketed.  And then came the Palestine takeover of our educational institutions.  Left unprotected by the Biden administration, Jewish children found themselves exposed to hatred, physically prevented from access to libraries and free movement in campuses and ability to study, marked as separate, terrified of encountering teachers and professors that would fail them because of who they were, and finally facing increased threats and finally violence.

The curtain seemed to be descending on the golden age of American Jewry – the greatest Diaspora Jewish community of all times – as each American Jew personally, felt under siege.  The moment that unleashed the realization into acute form was when the Chabad Rabbi at Columbia University declared in early April that the university’s Jews should leave the campus because their security could no longer be guaranteed. 

The dam burst. Parents pulled their children out of school.  Jews had lived in American paradise. The very foundations of the American enterprise was intertwined with the flourishing and freedom of the Jewish community for more than three centuries.  The New Jerusalem and the Old Jerusalem were blood brothers in the American experiment.  The rise of antisemitic hatred, however, not only shattered the Jewish sense of security, but also made Jews wonder how solid the American idea – upon which the welfare of the Jewish community is anchored – still is.  Jews inherently understood what they faced was not just a wave of antisemitism, but something that so deeply threatened America that it could signal the passing of a great historical era, leading to another age of mass Jewish wandering to find safe harbor.

But then a remarkable thing happened.  Young Jews, profoundly failed by elite Jewish institutions that stood helpless at this moment of truth, began to assert themselves.  A new generation of Jewish leaders – eloquent, proud, rediscovering their faith and identity in parallel to their Israeli cousins, but also unwilling to give up on the American home and the idea behind it that supported their aspirations, dreams and gave them secure life – suddenly emerged on the campuses.  They testified powerfully to Congress. They spoke on the quads and stairways to make a stand.  They wove their affinity with Israel, respect for Jewish history, and love of America together. Socially and even physically brave, they stood up to their peers and professors to fight back. 

Jewish elites had failed. Elite Jewish institutions stood paralyzed.  But a new generation of Jews – which was more anchored to their Jewish history and identity, but also more unwilling to take the American idea for granted – rushed to the trenches and now rises to sweep them aside.

America more broadly

Non-Jewish Americans came next.  The change emerged directly form the campus Jewish question and the chain of events originating in the October 7 attacks by Hamas.  The “little Gazas” sprung up around the country like mushrooms not only focused on hating Jews, but also on attacking the idea of America – the very thing that these radicals understood was what made the Jews so secure and allowed them to flourish either as an American community or as the Israeli nation. Moreover, harboring the deep objective of destroying the ideas and cultural foundations of the American idea, these radicals – Islamist green or socialist red —  knew the Jewish community embodied a strong part of the American nation’s Judeo-Christian core, and thus the road to destroy America lay through destruction of Judaism and Christianity.  Soon, imported European ideas of antisemtic fascism – the Black – also appeard. The attack on American Jews was just part of the progressive Bolshevik-Islamist-Fascist attack on America itself.  So, flags were burned.  War memorials that have nothing to do with Jews or Israel were desecrated.  Dead Americans who paid the ultimate price to defend their freedom and country were dishonored.

But the antisemitic assault was not broad in American society. They were not like the deep sense of guilt Americans still harbored in the summer of 2020 of the issue of the American Black experience – misplaced guilt because such feelings persist despite the remarkable arc or moral progress over a century – which led the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Even that was a bait and switch exploiting genuine feelings of guilt to launch a violent attack on the very goodness that animated Americans.  But that took time to sort out and realize.

But not so with the Israel issue. Polls consistently showed broad and deep American support for Israel, so there was no deeper sentiment of “anti-colonial” civil rights guilt these riots evoke. Americans identified with Israel and understood its attachment as an indigenous nation to the land for which it was fighting. 

Moreover, Americans had become, even in its earliest days before independence, a remarkably Judeophilic culture. Whether George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whether Mark Twain or John Steinbeck, American leaders and cultural icons committed to letters and words their respect and affinity with Jews.  And Israel seemed to have struck the deep sense of  Cincinnatus virtue that Americans always valued within themselves: the agrarian, farmer spirit of independence and making the land bloom, the fierce attachment to their values and willingness to alone defend them.  So, Americans all along filtered their understanding of October 7 through such a favorable view of Israel.

But the frenzied world of the Palestine encampments and their flag-burning and “death-to-America-chanting” zombie seances not only triggered disgust and evoked a deep sense of American patriotism, but it also showed Americans how profoundly rotted their elite institutions were. Their kids were not alright, and they were not alright because the people to whom Americans had entrusted their childrens’ education was instead turning them against everything they held dear. Congressional hearings of college officials became awful spectacles of mediocre wokeness. Americans on the national level began to see the entire educational system – for which every American family had to part with their life-savings to pay for —  the same way as local parents in Virginia had seen their school boards in 2022-23, which led then to pitched arguments across the country as well as the election of Republicans as senior state officials.  Americans understood their elite institutions no longer transmitted to their young American values or culture, nor taught civic virtue, nor nurtured patriotism, nor even respected family or faith in any way. 

And then came their moment. The Israeli and American Jewish question suddenly flowed together into the broader American question. In late April at the University of North Carolina, the little Gaza encampment – as all other encampments across the land – tore down the American flag at the university’s flagpole, burned it and replaced it with the Palestine flag.  The president of the university sent for police and marched along with them to take down the flag of Palestine and raise the American flag, accompanied by a rousing speech about the meaning of the American flag and its unique purpose in flying above us all.   No sooner had the flag been raised than the progressive Red-Green-Black (Bolshevik-Islamist-Fascist) radicals from the Palestine encampments sought to tear it down again.  But it was not to be. They were met by a group from the university’s Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epslion Pi (AEPi), who in a Iwo-Jima like moment, surrounded the flag, protected it from touching the ground and being soiled, and stood firm against projectiles to ensure the American flag remains flying on the pole.  The image that emerged from that incident was iconic and captured the American nation. 

Those of us who remember the late 1970s, remember the humiliation – already bubbling from the fall of Saigon – reverberating as American hostages were taken by Iran’s Ayatollahs.  They also remember the American victory in the Lake Placid Olympic hockey game of 1980, and the shift toward patriotism and energy generated by pride that took over the American soul in its wake.  As Iran had done in 1978-9, Iran’s proxies (Hamas), their minions and their Bolshevik and fascist allies of progressive radicals on American campuses had done in 2024.  So, those of us who do remember the American awakening of 1979-80 easily identify the current American re-Awakening of 2024 emerging from the images of  the AEPi defense of the flag at UNC.  The young frat boys were the equivalent of the young US hockey Olympic team at Lake Placid.  Across the country, young Americans – indeed many frats but then far beyond– began to mobilize to defend their flag and march to assert their pride in America.

Israel, the American Jewish question, and the reawakening of America were all now flowing in alignment – and all by virtue of a young new leadership emerging on the ossified husk of their community’s elites and their failing stagnant structures. 


But to the surprise of many Israelis, American Jews, and other Americans, it appears this is beginning to grip even Europe in the last weeks.  True, there were signs: the wave of elections, starting with Brexit, that symbolized a welling rejection of elites, elite culture, and elite power, had been brewing for years.  The discerning observer could see it.  But there still wasn’t the moment – the defining event to lay bare the vast chasm emerging between the elites and the societies over which they lorded. 

The moment may well have come this week – the usually politically marginal Eurovision song event.  The artistic elites of Europe, along with the state broadcast authorities which ran it considered not inviting Israel – a traditional powerhouse at this song competition – to bow to the ostensible antisemitic sentiments gripping the European.  Trying to use Israel’s song entry as “too political in hopes that Israel would thus disqualify itself – saving the EBU from the embarrassment of singling out and banning the Jewish state,” Europe’s elites demanded the wounded Jewish nation to go through several iterations of its song before the European Broadcast Union (EBU) would allow it to perform. But Israel played along, watered it down until its words were anodyne and palatable enough that the EBU could no longer hook its hopes of disqualification on them.

Israel came to the event in Malmo, Sweden – the epicenter of Islamist radical hatred of Jews and Israel —  and so did the masses of enraged radicals and European Muslims from across the continent. They threatened the Israeli singer, forced her to lockdown in her hotel room and brave riots attacking her convoy on the way to perform. Other nations’ delegates refused to have their rooms in proximity to the Israeli singer, and thus she had to be removed to a remote and isolated wing of the hotel.  Several delegations threatened a boycott and virtue signaled through costume and press conferences their dripping disdain of the Jewish singer.  Those few singers who in an unguarded moment had been photographed interacting with the Israeli singer, even in fleeting moments, were forced to apologize and ask that the picture be expunged from the public record. Israeli journalists and presenters were even forced by the European Broadcaster Union to remove their small yellow ribbons some wore to symbolize their hope of the return of Israel’s 132 hostages from Hamas torture and captivity.  The elites of Europe had decided that the people of Europe could not stomach association with Israel, in even song. Still, the desire of their national delegations to be feted outweighed their ostensible rage and they all performed. 

But Israel’s 20-year old Eden Golan still quietly took the stage, stood alone in front a loudly jeering audience of booing and shrieking pro-Palestine chants that tried to drown out the performance.  But in an act of bravery and immense discipline, she sang and sang true. 

And when she did, a remarkable thing happened.  The competition had a 50% popular vote across Europe and 50% an elite-board driven vote of judges that would combine to produce the winner.  Israel swept the popular vote.  Golan garnered a remarkable 327 points from the voting populations of Europe.  Moreover in 15 of the 35 nations, Israel outright won the popular vote (12 points for each win) and took second place (10 points) in seven more. Clearly, the people of Europe made their voce heard: Israel was not to be shunned, and in fact was wildly popular.

Then the elites spoke through the EBU judges.  They knew better what the people wanted than the people. While the judges’ votes historically have never varied too sharply from the popular vote, this time they did – and across the board.  Israel received only 52 votes by the EBU judges’ panels. 24 nations awarded the Israeli singer 0 votes.  11 more gave her extremely low votes (3-5 votes).  And no nation awarded Israel winning tallies.  In fact, many of the nations in which Israel won the popular vote by wide margins had their judges award Israel zero points. Western European elites led the trend: the UK, Switzerland, Luxembourg, San Marino, Spain, Finland, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Andorra, Belgium, and Sweden all had been won by Israel with 12 points on the popular vote, but all had the judges award Israel zero points.  Four of the five UK judges had ranked Israel as the worst song of the 35.

On the immense strength of the popular vote, and despite the unprecedented split action of the EBU broadcasting and artistic elites of Europe, Israel still finished in fifth place overall.  What was equally interesting was not only the popularity, but the image of the Israeli next to the other contestants.  Ireland and others fielded singers that were all twisted, depraved or sexually conflicted.  They were all orc-like caricatures of art.  Except Israel and one or two others (such as Armenia).  It was really a contest not only over songs, but over avant-garde artistic depravity versus wholesome ballads.  In many ways, Israel represented a return to normalcy, though swirling in a maelstrom of hate and threat.  Most European singers represented the degeneracy of a dying culture – a dying culture not only tolerated by but peddled by the continent’s elites.  A picture of the most anti-Israeli singer, Ireland’s Bambi Thug (right), juxtaposed with Israel’s, Eden Golan (left), could not be more symbolic and stark:

And yet, what had been laid bare was that the populations of Europe were just fine with Israel and liked the wholesomeness they saw, but the elites of Europe knew better and had to punish Israel and ensure it would lose to protect their twisted cultural bizarreness.  The tide of antisemitism, and the self-destructive depravity of it and accompanying it, was largely an immigrant and elite phenomenon; it was not at all populist.

We have yet to see if a new generation will emerge in Europe that will seize the reins from their obviously out of touch elites.  Recent elections suggest that may be happening, but it is too early to tell what sort of impact the Eurovision event had and what it may trigger. 


But from these events from Israel on October 7th to Eurovision on May 11, several things are clear.  Elites have failed the young generation, and a new generation is arising.  In Israel and among American Jews, a new leadership is rising in front of our very eyes from the battlefields of Gaza and U.S. campuses. Among non-Jewish Americans, a new patriotism seems to be stirring that reminds one of the eve of the Reagan era. And in Europe, the populations seem refreshingly to be unmoved by their 2000-year legacy of hating Jews.

Antisemitism is dangerous and rampant, but it is not just tolerated, but encouraged and fomented by elites. We have learned how in the past how antisemitism was the vehicle used by cynical elites to tap into their population’s worst instincts – implying elites may be cynical but not the ultimate font of the evil.  But what we see here and in Europe is the opposite: antisemitism is held by elites against the sentiments of the populations.  It takes an active role of elites and tolerance, including the protection and encouragement of a minority of antisemites, as well as expressions of their own antisemitic libels, to create the 1930s-like climate of antisemitism that we see today. And still the population did not buy it, or at least this time.

October 7 was a horror.  But it triggered an historic change, perhaps a change of eras.  And this time, the Jews and Israel are not mere subjects of history, but its catalyst.  Jews for two millennia spoke of being a light among nations – much like the American idea of itself being a beacon, John Winthrop’s shining city on a hill as the pilgrim leader on the Mayflower suggested – but by being disempowered, there was hardly any reality of this role for Jews as their quest for mere survival was all-consuming.  But now, despite being small and in a war again for its every survival, Israel seems to be casting some light that is shining onto populations and peoples far away, triggering in them a rediscovery of themselves and what made those distant lands and cultures great.   Rising from the ashes of October 7, Israel is leading the world to realizing the failure of its elites, the threat to their cultures, and the need to rally to defend the long line of western civilization that ran from Mts. Moriah and Sinai, and from Plato to NATO.

The ICC and the ICJ Manage to Make Things Worse

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Intervening last week against Israel’s self-defense actions toward Iran and Hamas, the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice made resolving the war harder.

The courts’ actions are fundamentally illegitimate, and their meddling portends further involvement, which could be even more unhelpful. Despite the troubles the ICC and ICJ are causing, Israel and its allies should not be dissuaded from destroying Hamas’s politico-military capabilities.

The United States is not a party to the ICC’s foundational treaty, having unsigned it in 2002. And over time, Washington has renounced the ICJ’s major jurisdictions, leaving only treaties where the court has never been invoked. Similarly, Israel never joined the ICC and has rejected ICJ jurisdiction on Gaza and West Bank matters. One immediate lesson for both countries is to withdraw completely from any remaining ICJ jurisdictions.

Although Israel is bearing the ICC and ICJ’s wrath for now, Jerusalem has long served as a canary in the coal mine for Washington, giving advance warning of pending threats America may experience later. Faced with Iran’s “ring of fire” strategy, implemented through attacks by Tehran’s terrorist proxies, Israel is acting in self-defense to eliminate Hamas as a fighting force.

Hamas’s barbaric policy of using Gaza’s civilian population as human shields, hoping to spare itself, has incalculably increased the inherent difficulties of urban combat. The terrorists believe that by sacrificing enough civilians, they can mobilize international pressure to stop Israel from achieving its objectives. Provoking investigations by the ICC’s rogue prosecutor and inducing international allies like South Africa to initiate ICJ cases, Hamas aims to increase the political pressure under ostensibly legal guises. Iran and its terrorist allies thereby seek to make Israelis feel increasingly isolated internationally and thereby pressure Jerusalem to back down.

Israelis should not fear being isolated for defending themselves. Who else will defend them if they do not? Jerusalem need not comply with political decrees by courts so illusory they cannot enforce their decisions. Indeed, scrutinizing the ICJ’s May 24 decision and its obtuse, international-legalese wording, Israel concluded it need not change its Gaza military operations. Although widely reported as ordering Israel to cease the Gaza offensive, the ICJ’s operative language actually demands only that Israel “halt its military offensive … which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Since Israel’s operations target Hamas, not all Palestinians, Israel sees its current approach as legitimate even by ICJ standards. That interpretation may sound Jesuitical, but it also demonstrates yet again why judicial intervention in wars is fanciful at best.

Unfortunately, however, the propaganda consequences look far different. Immediately after the ICC prosecutor announced he sought an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reporters asked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s press spokesman if Germany would execute the warrant. The aide replied, “Of course. Yes, we abide by the law.” While Scholz himself later tried to soften the blow, the point had been made.

Propaganda by Iran, its terrorist surrogates, and its leftist supporters worldwide has outmatched Israel’s during this conflict, except for the weeks immediately after Hamas’s Oct. 7 barbarities. Undoubtedly, ICC and ICJ actions will now take center stage in that propaganda, fueled by each new utterance from The Hague.

But the problems are far deeper than mere public relations failures. In America, for example, university protests and surprising polling results show astounding support for Hamas, especially among younger voters. Faculty prejudices have obviously grown worse over time, even as baby boomer professors reach retirement age. Reform of faculty selection and tenure decisions, among other things, is essential in public and private universities alike. This means little near-term, but could be dispositive for the U.S.-Israel special relationship in the long term. In Europe, if anything, anti-Israeli sentiment and outright antisemitism are even worse.

In a perfect world, Israel’s information statecraft and that of its allies would have been more effective from the outset. Surprise attacks, however, do not give targets time to prepare in advance. Media coverage of the ICC and the ICJ has proven the urgent need to explain why their actions are illegitimate. The broader imperative is to explain more effectively, and with greater resources, why Israel is exercising its legitimate right of self-defense against Hamas and Iran.

This article was first published in the Washington Examiner on May 29, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Repercussions of Raisi’s death

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President Ebrahim Raisi’s May 19 death in a helicopter crash has the potential to shatter Iran’s regime and the 1979 Islamic Revolution itself.  Raisi’s obviously unexpected demise was so unnerving and the stakes so high that we cannot yet fully discern the frantic maneuverings and vicious political infighting underway behind the scenes in Tehran.

The critical next step is the regime’s official, definitive statement on the cause of the helicopter crash.  So far, authorities have said only there was no evidence Raisi’s aircraft was attacked (, and the investigation continues. This obviously incomplete explanation is likely intended to buy time and reduce destabilizing speculation, but it cannot be the final word.

Huge political consequences flow from whatever cause is ultimately chosen.  The reality was probably some combination of bad weather, mountainous terrain, pilot error or mechanical malfunction.  Former Foreign Minister Javaid Zarif quickly blamed US sanctions for the lack of spare parts, which is laughable.  Iran has earned hundreds of billions of dollars in international oil sales since Ronald Reagan imposed America’s first sanctions, enough to finance ballistic-missile and nuclear programs and arm countless terrorist groups.  Iran didn’t have enough money to buy new helicopters from its Russian and Chinese friends?

Beyond the obvious non-political causes, Iran could choose to blame the usual foreign suspects (Mossad, CIA) or domestic political, ethnic, or religious opponents.  Assignment of blame could thereby prefigure the leadership struggles already underway, which could explain the delay in saying anything conclusive.  When truth is manipulated, elaborate preparations are often required to destroy conflicting evidence and counterfeit new “evidence.”  Outsiders can only await the final word to assess its impact, if any, on the succession battle.  Meanwhile, in the hours and days after the first reports of the presidential helicopter’s “hard landing,” military and security forces have shored up their defenses against potential unrest or interference from domestic or foreign source (

The critical point is the need to select a new Supreme Leader, or at least devise a concrete process for that decision, sooner than anticipated.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is approximately 85-years-old and in poor health.  With only two Supreme Leaders since the 1979 revolution, Iran has no established procedure regarding succession.  Many believe the rigged electoral process that brought Raisi to the presidency was intended to establish a more-stable line of succession, with Raisi seamlessly replacing Khamenei at the appropriate time.

Not everyone accepted this ploy, least of all Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba, who aspires to fill his father’s shoes.  Ironically, the father’s own concerns about establishing a hereditary line of succession, a criticism forcefully made by Mojtaba’s opponents, likely helped propel the notion that the presidency could serve as a stepping stone.  With new presidential elections now set for June 28, it is questionable whether the victor will automatically have the clout to be a top-tier contender to be Supreme Leader.  That means, inevitably, that there could be a plethora of candidates and intense infighting in government circles well ahead of the Supreme Leader’s death, which is likely the only way he will relinquish his office. 

Avoiding uncertainty over the succession is precisely what the regime’s top religious, civil, and military leadership wanted, but it now seems unavoidable.  Widespread politicking, conniving, and worse will widen already-existing splits within Iran’s top leadership and open new ones.  Competing centers of power among the ayatollahs;  leaders in the government’s legislative and judicial branches;  and Revolutionary Guards and regular military commanders already exist or are developing quickly.  The longer the struggle proceeds, the more bitter, more intense, and more protracted it will become.

In terms of raw power, the Revolutionary Guards already constitute a force that can easily resist the weak structures of civil government and even the regular military.  Many characterized the now-deceased Quds Force leader, Qassem Soleimani, as almost a son to Ayatollah Khamenei, with influence far beyond what his official title conveyed.  Given the regime’s unprecedented unpopularity across Iran, because of economic troubles, the discontent of the young people, the outrage caused by Mahsa Amini’s murder eighteen months ago, and longstanding ethnic and religious tensions, the Revolutionary Guards truly are the only reliably loyal shield for the ayatollahs and other regime leaders.

But what if the IRGC fragments?  If Iran’s opposition can drive wedges between Revolutionary Guard leaders, or even within the conventional military, the regime’s near-monopoly of lethal force could be broken.  Disaffected ethnic groups like Kurds and Baluchis could join in as well, raising the prospect of internal clashes, perhaps rising to levels approximating civil war.

Historically, outwardly imposing authoritarian regimes, such as czarist Russia, have often been hollowed out internally long before they fell.  Confronted with determined opponents, they collapsed swiftly.  It is too soon to tell whether the ayatollahs will meet the same fate, but, without doubt, their revolution is now in grave jeopardy.

This article was first published in Independent Arabia on May 28, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Hamas is just a part of Iran’s multi-front war against Israel and the West

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Since Oct. 7, Hamas has been the tip of the spear in Iran’s “ring of fire” strategy against Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has not yet finished Hamas off militarily, largely because of intense White House pressure, now approaching a crescendo, not to do so.

But Iran has other options it can dial up, most worryingly Hezbollah, its most potent terrorist surrogate. The death of President Ebrahim Raisi, whatever its effects domestically in Iran, which may be significant, will not in the near term change the ayatollah’s regional aspirations or strategies.

Several recent developments have highlighted Tehran’s non-Hezbollah options, which, together or alone, pose significant risks for Israel, the United States and their allies. Whether Washington and Jerusalem are paying adequate attention is unclear. Biden seems intent on begging Tehran to resile from the “ring of fire,” as evidenced yet again last week. Iran has no reason to take these entreaties seriously.

Instead, Iran is actively recruiting local Palestinians in Jordan to aid Hezbollah and Hamas in destabilizing King Abdullah. Jordan was the second Arab country, after Egypt, to make peace with Israel, and its security and stability are vital interests for Jerusalem and Washington. Jordan’s fragile economy and endangered monarchy have over the years survived serious pressures, as during the Gulf Wars against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. has important military facilities in Jordan and the at Tanf garrison in Syria, astride the Iraqi, Syrian and Jordanian borders. Amman was critical in the war against ISIS, and has long defended itself from Iranian threats. King Abdullah first underscored the threat of an Iranian-led “Shia Crescent,” reaching from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean. In April, Jordan played a critical role against Iran’s missile and drone assault on Israel, downing dozens of drones and allowing Israeli and other friendly air forces to conduct operations in its airspace.

The worst-case scenario would be Jordain’s monarchy falling to Hamas or other pro-Iranian terrorists. A hostile regime in Amman, mobilizing Palestinians on both sides of the Jordan River, would be far more threatening to Israel than the current Gaza strife. Iran and its surrogates fully appreciate this vulnerability, which is why undermining King Abdullah is so attractive. Perhaps Israel, the U.S. and Gulf Arab states have significant measures underway to help steady Jordan’s monarchy and economy — but, if not, they should begin immediately.

Another little-noticed increased threat is the mounting pressure on Israeli targets by Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. Israeli officials decline to comment on these attacks, and so far most of the drones and missiles launched against Israel have apparently been intercepted. The militias have also struck sites in Jordan, most notably the U.S. base near at Tanf known as “Tower 22” in February, where three Americans were killed and dozens wounded. Washington’s retaliation against the militias and their Iranian patrons resulted in attacks on U.S. positions declining, and likely redirected their attention to Israel.

To date, the Shia militias’ direct threat to Israel has not been large, but the prospect exists for more sophisticated and more effective weapons aimed at both Israel and Jordan. At a minimum, these developments enhance Tehran’s tactical flexibility, increasing the overall strain on Israeli air-defense capabilities, and heightening risks to U.S. personnel and facilities. Strategically, utilizing the Shia militias outside their Iraq and Syria base areas increases the overall integration of “ring of fire” proxies to Iran’s advantage. Coordinating with Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and Syria’s conventional military strengthens the Shia Crescent threatening both Israel and Jordan.

Also receiving relatively sparse media attention are attacks by Yemen’s Houthis on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, which the State Department warns are “resulting in enormous impacts on international shipping.” The Iran-Houthi strategy to disrupt freedom of the seas is particularly noteworthy for how targeted it is, with attacks largely exempting Chinese and Russian carriers, concentrating instead on barring Israeli, American and European shippers.

Rising transportation costs and higher insurance rates for oil and other cargoes diverted around Africa have significantly increased prices in Europe, and have advantaged Russia and China, notwithstanding sanctions against Russia for its 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The differential targeting of Houthi interdiction efforts not only signals Iranian control over Houthi operations, but the Beijing-Moscow alliance’s increasing importance in Middle Eastern affairs.

Moreover, Houthi attacks on U.S. and U.K. naval vessels and drones pose a direct challenge to Western military efforts to defeat the “ring of fire” strategy. Of course, American-led airstrikes have destroyed Iranian-supplied missile and radar capabilities used by Houthis in the Red Sea campaign, but the Biden administration’s retaliation has been quite limited.

The White House has made no effort to eliminate the Iranian-Houthi disruptive operations, nor has it considered the consequences of their discriminatory maritime targeting, which simply encourages the attacks to continue. Their tactics not only cause real economic damage, but are daily violating fundamental U.S. and Western interests in freedom of the seas. Impunity only encourages other global predators like China to think they too can disrupt freedom of the seas with only a minimal American response.

The Biden administration is seriously mistaken to believe the Middle East’s only real conflict is in Gaza. Hamas is but one part of a larger Iranian-led provocation. Our persistent failure to see the greater picture only invites more trouble.

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 May 21, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

The West will soon pay for Biden’s betrayal

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Our global adversaries – China, Russia, Iran and its proxies – must be marvelling at their good fortune as President Joe Biden effectively endorses a terrorist veto over Israel’s right to self-defence.
The US President’s unprecedented open threat to withhold arms deliveries to Israel “if they go into Rafah”, and a State Department public report on Israeli conduct of the war, are self-inflicted wounds to a vital alliance. Israel has not yet publicly responded, but it faces critical choices over whether to proceed militarily in Rafah, or back down. Neither option is attractive given the potential consequences.
Biden’s stubbornness is wrong on many levels. First, close allies should always engage privately during wartime. Leaks undoubtedly occur, often intentionally, but preserving even minimal confidentiality is essential to later repairing damage done both at governmental and personal levels.
Piling on publicly in the middle of a war is imprudent, even juvenile, damaging the respect and trust allies must sustain during times of crisis and tension. The propaganda opportunities handed to hostile powers are immeasurable. And if Biden is prepared to cut loose one of America’s most valued partners, what does that foretell for those more-distant, less-favoured than Israel? How does Ukraine feel? Or Taiwan?  
Second, Biden’s motives are not so high-minded as he may have us believe. This is no profile in courage. Domestically, the US President is faring poorly in polls against Donald Trump, and defections to minor-party candidates could sink his re-election chances. In swing-state primaries like Michigan, large numbers of Democrats voted “uncommitted”, posing significant risks if they stay home in November. White House staffers have flagellated themselves to regain key Democratic blocks but they have so far failed. Elizabeth Warren, asserting Israel may be liable for “genocide” in Gaza, exemplifies the problem.
Ironically, while politics dominates Biden’s calculations, his gambit may backfire. Republicans uniformly rejected his approach, as did significant numbers of Democrats. Biden’s threat reflects weakness, coming just weeks after his frantic efforts to pressure Israel not to retaliate strongly after Iran’s missile-and-drone attack.  
The President’s supporters invoke Ronald Reagan’s withholding weapons when Israel struck Palestinians in Lebanon, but the two scenarios are entirely distinct. The US-Israel relation at that time was moral and historical, not strategic, as it is today. Indeed, Reagan later forged the Washington-Jerusalem strategic ties. Biden repeatedly pledged “ironclad support” for Israel after October 7, but subsequently swerved dramatically from that position.
Finally, and most importantly, the substance of Biden’s threat and the thoroughly unsatisfactory State Department report expose the administration as misguided and confused in ways that could haunt future US Presidents.
Close-quarters combat in complex urban environments, let alone in Hamas’s extraordinary network of underground tunnels, is something Western militaries prefer to avoid. Not surprisingly, the State’s report is incoherent and contradictory, doubtless reflecting anti-Israel sentiment in many Department bureaus, and schizophrenia within Biden Administration political ranks. The report lacks specificity, yet incomplete information is hard to assess without adequate context – which is why a fair and accurate reckoning would be most fruitful after the war, not while combat still rages.
The fact that civilians are present in combat areas requires that Israel, or any combatant, determine they are striking only military targets and that civilian casualties are no more than proportional to the importance of such targets. In Rafah, the IDF is seeking to eliminate Hamas’s highest command-and-control hierarchies and its remaining organised military units, all clearly legitimate objectives.
It is unacceptable that Israel may be prevented from achieving its legitimate self-defence goals because the terrorists are so barbaric as to sacrifice their own civilian population to save themselves. If that is what Biden means by saying he objects to Israel entering Rafah, then he is simply endorsing the terrorist veto. Yet it is Hamas that is morally culpable for Gazan civilian deaths, not Israel.  
We do not know what will unfold next, but the decisive choice now lies with Israel’s war cabinet. Biden’s ill-considered threat to cut the Jewish state loose will be at the centre of considerable debate. There is no debate, however, that Biden’s ploy will come back to haunt him, America, and all the West.
John Bolton is a former US National Security Advisor

This article was first published in the Daily Telegraph on May 12, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

What’s next between Iran and Israel?

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John Bolton writes for “Independent Arabia” about the outcome of the confrontation between Tehran and Tel Aviv and issues a very important warning of the next six months

The first batch of overt Iranian attacks on Israeli territory has now concluded, along with the Israeli response, which constituted the first public attack inside Iran. Yet no one should imagine that Tehran’s mullahs have abandoned their grand strategy of hegemony throughout the Middle East and among Muslims, nor that their long-term covert war against Israel will subside and recede. For now, however, the focus should be on Israel’s imminent efforts to eliminate Hamas militarily and politically, and counter the future of Iran’s “Ring of Fire” battle plan.

It remains unclear whether Iran intends Hamas to launch a full “ring of fire” strategy during its barbaric attack on October 7, 2023, and this may remain unknown for some time as well. Whatever Iran’s aims, Israel’s harsh response has crippled Hamas’s conventional combat capabilities. Moreover, Gazans have begun to turn against Hamas, which is crucial for Israel and the Arab world alike. Tehran undoubtedly misjudged Israel’s internal political stability and global aversion to the events of October 7, 2023, but it is likely that Supreme Leader Khamenei believed that Hamas could be left to its fate in any case. Still, he should be concerned about the devastation inflicted on Hamas, even though Iran itself and its other terrorist proxies (the Houthis, Hezbollah, and Iraqi and Syrian Shiitemilitias) have suffered little.

For now, Iran seems unwilling to risk losing more of these investments. The mullahs are likely to already recognize the Biden administration’s internal political weakness, as most Americans inevitably do. With the uncertainty that dominates Biden’s re-election, it may be justified and logical for Iranian ayatollahs to worry that any further attacks against Israel, directly or through allied terrorist groups, could trigger a strong U.S. response, at a time when Biden is trying to show support for Israel. The unexpected outcome of the U.S. election campaign, and what a second term for Trump might bring, may indicate a short-term pause on the Iranian side. Waiting for the fall of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government could also be a gift to Iran. No other Israeli leader understands the Iranian threat so clearly, or has Netanyahu’s determination that Israel does not fall prey to what his predecessor Ariel Sharon called a “nuclear holocaust.”

But whatever Iran prefers, it cannot ignore that a decisive Israeli victory against Hamas would irreparably weaken Tehran’s regional position. Israel is certainly not a receiver or merely responding, even if the Biden White House follows this approach. Indeed, Israel may then target Hezbollah’s vast missile stockpile and the quasi-existential threat it poses. If Israel believes that Iran fears enough of direct U.S. intervention, Jerusalem can take decisive action against Hezbollah’s arsenal without fear of major Iranian counterstrikes.

More importantly, the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. elections scheduled for Nov. 5 does not suggest a clear direction for Tehran. Despite Trump’s orders to assassinate Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, Emmanuel Macron almost convinced Trump at the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz to meet with then-Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Thus, even with the Biden administration’s apparent weakness and indecision, Iran’s mullahs can decide to wait for Trump to come again and his limited understanding of America’s core national security interests. Refusing to undertake major new military initiatives before Nov. 5 would avoid exposing the Houthis, Hezbollah, Shiite militias, and even Iran itself to punitive attacks by Jerusalem or Washington.

In this context, too, Iran is taking into account its growing alignment and rapprochement with the fast-growing Sino-Russian axis, a contemporary version of the Sino-Soviet alliance during the Cold War, with Beijing as its largest partner and Moscow as its vassal. Iran sells Russia drones to use against Ukraine. China has increased its oil and gas purchases from Russia. Iran is facilitating Russia’s evasion of international financial sanctions and is considering whether to take a decisive step against Taiwan, possibly before the U.S. election, at a time when Beijing (and Moscow) are still unclear whether to wait until the U.S. election is decided, or to take major steps before that time, with both positive and negative points. The mere fact that this is the subject of heated debate during a fierce US presidential campaign at the partisan level is extremely dangerous and uncertain, a major complicating factor for Russia, China, and Iran.

Meanwhile, public coordination between Iran and other partners in the Beijing-Moscow axis, such as North Korea, has become more apparent. Iran and North Korea have long cooperated closely on nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, but in secret, for reasons that are not hidden. Abandoning any claims about their relations is a sign of increased confidence in these two proliferator rogue states. Unfortunately, America’s adversaries all know that Trump’s desire to make “big deals” with his country’s enemies can easily override any rational calculation of America’s national interests.

The most likely scenario for the next six months would be this: Israeli attacks would leave Hamas a crumbling terrorist network, Jerusalem would increase its campaign against suspected terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza, and tensions along the Lebanese border between Israel and Hezbollah would increase. As the Nov. 5 deadline approaches, and the outcome and the overall picture may become clear, Iran and its proxies will have to make their own decision on whether to take major military action, or wait until a new president is installed. No one thinks the next six months will be quiet.

This article was first published in the Independent Arabia on April 30, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Biden gave Iran yet another win by pressing Israel to go easy on the terrorist state

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With Israel facing overwhelming pressure from President Biden, its Friday retaliation against Iran was an exercise in minimalism. Jerusalem did cross one important Iranian red line, at whose mere mention the Biden administration has quailed. Bibi Netanyahu’s war cabinet authorized an overt attack against a target on the soil of Iran, which Israel had previously attacked only covertly. Point therefore made, albeit one that should have made many years ago.

Beyond that, there is little to celebrate. Jerusalem’s riposte to Tehran’s massive April 13-14 missile-and-drone attack on Israel has solved nothing else substantive. Iran continues closing its “ring of fire” around Israel, which will likely now refocus on finishing Hamas. It is frivolous to say, as some do, that Israel has established “escalation dominance” over Iran, having struck the first and last blows.

In fact, the parties exchanged a few glancing blows, with no material change in their capabilities. Nonetheless, there were winners and losers from the exchange. Consider these:

Biggest winner. Beyond dispute, Biden wears the largest smile, his administration having all but broken Netanyahu’s arm to force Israel’s limp reaction. The White House did not operate on a strategic plane here, except for demonstrating yet again its limitless deference to Iran. Instead, the administration was playing domestic American politics and achieved two potentially critical objectives. By saving Iran from a meaningful Israeli response, Biden has at least postponed the prospect of further increases in international oil prices and their inevitable consequence of increasing gasoline’s price at the pump in the United States. And Biden forestalled intensified criticism from progressive Democrats who oppose his Middle East policies (such as they are) and could sink his prospects in November merely by staying home in key states like Michigan and Nevada.

Second biggest winner. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his regime literally dodged the bullets that Israel never fired. The mullahs carefully watched Biden make Israel knuckle under, and they will not hesitate to exploit that lesson militarily and diplomatically as their ring-of-fire strategy continues unfolding. Their near-theological hold on Biden’s administration, as on Obama’s, continues to thrive, and Khamenei and his advisers sense the palpable political fear emanating from the White House. More than six months into the current war against “the little Satan,” Iran has still suffered no measurable damage on its home turf. In the psychological warfare contest with America, it is unfortunately Iran that has “escalation dominance.”

Biggest losers. The security of the American and Israeli peoples suffered the most. Biden muscled Israel’s war cabinet but bent his knee to our mutual adversaries in Iran, revealing by this unforced error crippling weakness in the White House. On one hand, he was dismayed by Israel’s successful April 1 attack in Damascus against leaders of Iran’s Quds Force. On the other, he asserted embarrassingly that just staying alive after Iran’s missile-and-drone barrage was an Israeli “win” requiring Jerusalem to rest on its laurels and not retaliate. Israel, however, is struggling to escape living under the gun of Iran and its terrorist proxies, not celebrate it. Our global adversaries, especially Moscow and Beijing, must have marveled at Biden’s sophistry, which sadly rises to the level of Lenin’s scorn for “useful idiots.”

And the basis of Biden’s overconfidence may well be wrong. Israeli and US missile defenses were not as fully tested as first thought. Largely unnoticed, The Wall Street Journal and CBS reported that half of Iran’s 120 ballistic missiles failed, either at liftoff or before being shot down. If true, out of 320 Iranian projectiles, Israel’s missile defenses faced only around 60 ballistic missiles, plus 30 cruise missiles and 170 much-slower drones.

Iran’s failures do not detract from Israel’s missile-defense successes, including Jordanian and Saudi participation. They do, however, underscore that if Iran launches more properly functioning missiles next time, we may not be so successful. And the irony is heavy. Biden strongly opposed George W. Bush’s 2002 withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which opened the floodgates of knowledge on all types of missile defenses, bearing fruit today.

Washington is reportedly readying sanctions against an Israeli army battalion for alleged human-rights violations. If true, this news reveals Joe Biden’s real direction. So much for restraint.

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 the New York Post on April 21, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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.