Steve

Over 70 evangelical leaders support Trump’s Israel amb.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel-designate David Friedman. Credit: Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP.

Over 70 evangelical leaders support Trump’s Israel amb.

(JNS.org) Following a high-profile meeting with David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel, a group of more than 70 evangelical Christian leaders has issued a joint letter to the president expressing their enthusiastic support for Friedman’s candidacy.

In the letter, the group expressed confidence that Trump “wisely selected a fellow man of faith, character and principle to represent our country’s interests in Israel.” Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer, advised Trump on Israel-related issues during his 2016 presidential campaign.

The pro-Israel leaders who convened at the meeting represented millions of Christians around the world, including more than 100 million Hispanic evangelicals in more than 40,000 U.S.-based churches and an additional 500,000 congregations globally.

Regarding Friedman’s candidacy, Joseph Sabag, U.S. national director for the Israel Allies Foundation, stated, “While Mr. Friedman is someone we have known and trusted, our meeting today only strengthened our support…Mr. Friedman and President Trump represent a vast upgrade in our nation’s support for Israel, and that’s something all Americans should applaud and especially evangelical Christians.”

In addition to supporting Friedman as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, the evangelical leaders’ letter expressed unanimous support for relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

 

IRAN Special News Update

The Iranian nuclear program’s heavy water reactor near Arak. Credit: Nanking2012 via Wikimedia Commons.

By Yaakov Lappin/JNS.org

A year and a half after it was signed, the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers has held up, but the agreement’s future is now in doubt.

Before being elected last November, President Donald Trump described the agreement with Iran as “the worst deal ever negotiated” and said he would act to dismantle it. This position echoes the frequent comments on the deal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Following Trump’s election, Netanyahu expressed hope that he could work with Trump to undo the arrangement.

Yet it remains far from clear whether the defense establishments of Israel and the U.S. would like to see the nuclear deal canceled, despite the deep misgivings and concerns they both hold about the accord.

Prof. Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the founding director of the School of Communication at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, told JNS.org that that there is wide agreement across the Trump administration that the nuclear deal is insufficient, yet it also “remains unclear how Trump and the Pentagon wish to fix its shortcomings.”

“In Israel too, there is an agreement that the deal is not good, but there are disagreements over how bad it is, and what can be done to address its faults,” Gilboa said.

Why Israel believes the deal is flawed

The Israeli defense establishment does not have much faith that the deal will prevent a nuclear Iran in the long-term, though it does assess that the pact will temporarily delay Tehran’s progress. Sections of the American defense establishment have pointed out that the deal has done nothing to stop Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East, undercutting former President Barack Obama’s hope that the agreement would empower Iranian moderates.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear deal is formally known, was signed in July 2015 between the P5+1 countries and Iran. The deal froze Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, limiting the Islamic Republic to possessing 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of low-enriched uranium for 15 years and striving to extend Iran’s nuclear breakout time from a few months to one year.

But the deal merely places a freeze—rather than destroying—Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities at the nuclear sites located in Natanz and Fordow, and it allows the Iranians to continue to improve and develop uranium enrichment techniques.

When the deal’s sunset clauses kick in, Tehran can once again go back to enriching uranium at industrial levels, this time with enhanced technology. Should it choose to violate the agreement before the onset of the sunset clause, a year is not much time to stop it, critics of the deal fear, due to the unclear procedures on how to respond if Iran is caught cheating.

‘Lose-lose’situation

All that being said, nixing the nuclear deal entirely “at this point is lose-lose,” said Emily Landau, head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, and one of the nuclear deal’s sharpest critics.

“Iran already pocketed millions of dollars, so there is no leverage on it to get a better deal,” Landau told JNS.org, referring to the sanctions relief Iran obtained in the agreement. “As bad as the deal is, what is gained by giving up the new concessions Iran made?”

While the aftermath of the nuclear deal continues to play out, Iran can keep building its missile program—the delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons—and expand its influence the region. Iran is arming and funding its many radical agents, which include Hezbollah and thousands of Shi’a militia members deployed across the Middle East. Additionally, Iran controls operations on the ground in Syria and Iraq, overseeing massacres of Sunnis, and increasingly dominates President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime and the Shi’a government of Iraq.

With the lifting of international economic sanctions, the Islamic Republic is amassing treasure that can be expected to go toward enhancing Iran’s regional ambitions and buildup of force. Iran also continues to openly call for the destruction of Israel.

Current assessments in the U.S. and Israel

At first, Iran dismissed Trump’s threat to cancel the deal, calling it “empty talk.” Since then, the Trump administration has put Iran “on notice” in response to a recent ballistic missile test that American and Israeli officials said defied a United Nations resolution. Given Trump’s sharp break from Obama’s support for the nuclear deal, the Iranians—who denied that their missile test violated the U.N. measure—might now be taking the possibility of an end to the agreement much more seriously.

The Israeli defense establishment has, until now, viewed the deal as a fait accompli. As such, its assessment was that the agreement would hold in the short- to medium-term future, since Iran has a clear economic interest in keeping to it. Iran does not want to return to a reality of crippling sanctions.

In the longer-term future, the Israeli defense establishment believes that chances of a direct clash with Iran will grow, and a decade from now, Israel’s strategic environment will be considerably more dangerous. A large chunk of that danger will come from a wealthier, more militarily powerful Iran equipped with international legitimacy to enrich uranium, which will return the Islamic Republic to being a nuclear threshold state. In line with such assessments, the defense establishment in Israel concluded that the risk of an imminent clash with Iran, or an immediate need to strike its nuclear program, could be removed from the table.

There is no “big difference” between positions on the deal held by Netanyahu and the Israeli defense establishment, Landau said, arguing that both took a very dim view of it. “Statements by past and present by [Israeli] officials were taken out of context and inserted into the U.S. debate by President Obama, on purpose, to drive a wedge between Netanyahu and the defense establishment,” she said.

Israel’s enemies that are closer to home, particularly the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, are deterred for the time being, and Hezbollah is busy with backing the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has identified a window of opportunity to use the current period of calm to prepare itself for the bigger challenges that might be on the horizon.

Although the Israeli defense establishment has not said so publicly, it may not be inclined to the idea of scrapping the deal altogether, as that would create an immediate need for war readiness. That, in turn, would cut into the IDF’s plans to focus time and resources toward preparing itself for the years ahead.

The road ahead

Moving forward, Landau said that “it is better to strictly enforce and strengthen the deal” than to dismantle it. This approach, she said, should be accompanied by a return of American deterrence against Iran, and an end to the Obama administration’s policy of “ignoring and playing down all Iranian provocations. That, in itself, will begin turning things around.”

There is a need for the P5+1 countries to clarify how Iran is allowed to interpret the deal, when it comes to inspections at suspicious military facilities, to prevent the Iranians from playing for time, Landau argued. Preparing fixed responses for potential Iranian violations would strengthen the deal, she said.

“This cannot be left unattended to last minute. There won’t be enough to to take effective action,” said Landau.

The outcome of the Feb. 15 meeting between Trump and Netanyahu at the White House could also be critical for charting the course ahead. Bar-Ilan’s Gilboa said that Trump “expects Netanyahu to bring practical suggestions on how to deal with this issue. Only after the meeting will it be possible to know where things are headed.”

 

At last, a real threat

 

An Iranian ballistic missile test in October 2015. Credit: Mohammad Agah via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ben Cohen/JNS.org

I will admit that this sounds perverse, but Iran’s recent ballistic missile test was welcome in one important sense. Let me explain.

Just more than a fortnight into President Donald Trump’s administration, America and the world have been bombarded with all sorts of crises, to the extent that it feels as if two years of history has been packed into two weeks. Relations with Mexico are at their lowest ebb in more than a century. The administration continues to exasperate, most likely intentionally, European heads of state with its on again, off again comments about the long-term health of the European Union and NATO. Trump even boasted of yelling at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, leader of the stalwart U.S. ally Australia, over a previous agreement reached with the Obama administration concerning the fate of a handful of refugees.

And then along came Iran with its firing of a ballistic missile Jan. 29, in open defiance of the nuclear deal its signed with the Obama administration and other Western governments, which urges Iran not to develop ballistic missiles until the eighth year of the deal kicks in. That was quickly followed by reports that Iran had test-fired a cruise missile, the Sumar, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and has a potential range of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles), meaning that it is well within reach of Israel and the European continent.

If we needed a salutary reminder that some threats should be ranked above others, then the Islamist regime in Tehran provided one. Dismissing American concerns with a cheap swipe at Trump’s “Muslim travel ban”—whatever else it may be, it is not that—Iran deployed Defense Minister Hossein Deghan, who also holds the rank of brigadier-general in the terrorist Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), to present the missile activities as a routine defensive measure.

“We have no other aim but to defend our interests and in this path we will neither seek permission nor allow anyone to interfere,” Deghan declared. Given that this is the very same Deghan who revealed, following a March 2015 test of the very same Sumar cruise missile, that the regime’s goal is to boost the precision and destructive power of these weapons, it is reasonable to conclude that defense of Iran’s interests means having the ability to annihilate Iran’s neighbors.

Away from the fervid rhetoric and intellectually insulting spin on all sides that has accompanied Trump’s first steps into the world of governing, Iran represents a marked contrast when it comes to the clarity of the challenge it poses. By any standard, Iran’s regime stands out as a clear and present threat to the Western world. And even as we agonize over what is to become of that world, we need to recognize that the primary goal is to save it. Israel and the conservative Sunni-Arab states may be first in Iran’s firing line, but only a fool would conclude that they are last as well.

In that sense, the Trump administration’s response to the missile test was heartening in one very simple sense: it noticed.

Whereas Obama would have done his utmost to play down its significance, Trump’s advisers accurately portrayed the test as a statement of Iran’s true intentions. If there really is an influential “moderate” wing of the regime, as Obama and his administration’s Secretary of State John Kerry always insisted was the case, then it now faces a different kind of test, political and not military in nature: Will it, or can it, restrain future missile firings? Does it grasp that the Trump administration’s lack of detail over the method of its coming response (all we know is that Tehran is “on notice”) actually makes its country less secure, since in theory all options are on the table at a time when escalation could turn out to be very rapid? If there is a moderate leader in Iran who can turn the tide, then he—trust me on this, it’s invariably a “he”—should act quickly, or else confirm what we’ve known all along. Namely, that the IRGC, whose main purpose is to export the Islamic Revolution, is the real power broker behind Iran’s leaders.

Indeed, if I were that moderate Iranian leader, I would find very little of comfort in what is being said in Washington these days. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), said this week that global banks should be prevented from conducting U.S. dollar transactions with their Iranian counterparts. The ranking Democrat on that committee, New York’s U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, asserted that in our dealings with the Iranians, we should “never, never trust them,” adding that designations against human rights abusers and sanctions targeting the IRGC should be stepped up. Trump himself also indicated that he understands the nature of Iran’s grand strategy, remarking on Twitter that Tehran wields increasing control over neighboring Iraq. All of this supports the conclusion that the rose-tinted spectacles have been removed and that the gloves are off.

The Iranians can glean further clues to the changing atmosphere in Washington in the current discussion of the equally pressing security threat posed by North Korea. Speaking to a Senate committee hearing on North Korea last week, two leading experts, Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute and Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations, gave a sobering account of what happens when a rogue regime successfully acquires nuclear weapons.

Ben Cohen

Eberstadt explained that Americans now have to recognize “two highly unpleasant truths” about North Korea. First, that it will never voluntarily give up its nuclear option. Second, that engagement can never produce “a denuclearization of the real existing North Korea.” Added Snyder, “Kim Jong Un has decided, based on lessons from Iraq, Iran and Libya, that North Korea must be too nuclear to fail.”

Iran’s leaders want to be able to make the same determination. After four years of denial of this reality, the American public is again in a position to understand its potency. That is the best place to start.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism (Edition Critic, 2014).

 

To Top