by Jerry Gordon and Mike Bates with Dan Diker and Shoshana Bryen (March 2015)
Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu, Ma’ale Adumim Campaign Stop, Feb. 25, 2015
A perfect storm is threatening Israel. While the world’s attention is focused on the rise of the Islamic State or ISIS with its apocalyptic view of traditional Jihadist Sunni Islam, a state with another Islamic apocalyptic vision, Shia Iran, is about to achieve nuclear hegemony in the Middle East. Iran, a notorious state sponsor of terrorism, is using proxies Hezbollah and Hamas to confront Israel on its borders and internally. A clash occurred in mid-January 2015 when the IAF attacked a convoy in Quneitra, Syria, hard by the Israeli Golan frontier killing four Senior Hezbollah Commanders, including Jihad Mughniyeh and six Iranian Quds Force commanders, notably, Gen. Mohammed Ali Allahdadi. Hezbollah retaliated shortly thereafter with an attack in the disputed Shebaa Farms area in Lebanon firing anti-tank weapons and hitting an IDF vehicle, killing two and injured several Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hasan Nasrallah, in a public statement threatened Israel with an invasion of the Galilee followed with a reign of terror from its estimated 150,000 rockets and missiles able to cover all of Israel. Israel’s air force conducted raids in December 2014 on Damascus international airport and Dimas on the Lebanese border. Those raids on December 8, 2014 may have destroyed Russian equipment that might have deployed to counter a proposed no-fly zone inside Syria.
The IAF has conducted several prior raids that included targeting longer range Iranian–supplied Fateh-110 missiles.
Hezbollah has been engaged in actions in Syria and along the Lebanese border, fighting Sunni opposition forces. Its casualties in the nearly four year civil war have steadily mounted. Thus, despite the clash, Nasrallah may not be so inclined to open a full-throated war on Israel’s north. But Iran’s intention may be to foment a series of cross-border actions seeking to divert IDF conventional military resources.
Former National Security Adviser Maj. Gen. Yaakov Armidror (ret.) nevertheless considers Hezbollah Israel’s most significant threat ranging across its entire northern border, a development highlighted in a recent analysis from the MEMRI organization. A recent report by the Times of Israel revealed a meeting between Quds Force Commander, Gen. Qassem Suleymani and the head of Hamas’ Politburo, Khaled Meshaal in Turkey shortly after the end of last summer’s Hamas rocket war in Gaza. That marked a renewal of relations between Iran and the Sunni terrorist group to provide funding and weapons after Qatar refrained from that role it had previously held. Iran is not above working with Sunni terror groups, like Muslim Brotherhood affiliate Hamas, and even, as some analysts believe, assisting ISIS in its beginning stages. Iran is now fighting ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu considers these actions by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in the Jewish nation’s north as opening a third front. Iran and Israel have been fighting a secret war around the world over the past thirty years. This is the latest of a series of chess moves by the Persian experts of the Islamic Regime.
That conventional threat to Israel on its border is just one of the storms it is facing. The other is the existential threat posed by Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state capable of producing nuclear weapons. Iran’s nuclear program began during the Eisenhower Administration with a US agreement with the Shah of Iran to assist in building a civilian nuclear reactor. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the Islamic regime has conscientiously engaged in an illicit nuclear weapons program, with the aid of North Korea and the A.Q. Khan network, gradually building its nuclear enrichment capability. Iran is also developing its nuclear payload capabilities, nuclear triggers, and warheads to be fitted on medium range and intercontinental missiles. Intrusive inspections under the auspices of the UN International Atomic Energy Administration began over a decade ago which revealed both known and unknown cascade halls of more than 10,000 centrifuges.
Israel and others contend that one only needs centrifuges for enriching uranium to provide fissile material for bomb-making. Both US and UN sanctions against Iran were established, aimed at deterring Iran from its ultimate objective. Discussions by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), reached an interim agreement (Joint Plan of Action) on November 24, 2013 seeking a permanent agreement. On December 4, 2014 the deadline was extended by mutual agreement to June 30, 2015 together with release of several billions of dollars of funds impounded under US sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. An earlier date for achieving a working version of a final agreement had been announced for March 24, 2015.
In late February 2015 breaking news came of a possible phased agreement arising from bi-lateral discussions between US Secretary of State Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif. They may have reached an agreement in principle that would seek to defer achievement of Iran’s nuclear breakout for over a decade. These revelations prompted Israeli PM Netanyahu to say that “it would provide Iran will a license to make a bomb.” He also said in an address to a gathering of major American Jewish organizations in Jerusalem in late February, “That if the deal was a good one, then why hide it?” A reference to Israel being excluded from weekly briefings, given suspicion in the Administration that it might be engaged in leaking information.
However, Netanyahu was not alone in questioning the Administration’s negotiations for a deal with Iran. On February 5, 2015 the Washington Post Editorial Board published “The emerging Iran nuclear deal raises major concerns:
? First, a process that began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and restrict that capability.
? Second, in the course of the negotiations, the Obama administration has declined to counter increasingly aggressive efforts by Iran to extend its influence across the Middle East and seems ready to concede Tehran a place as a regional power at the expense of Israel and other U.S. allies.
? Finally, the Obama administration is signaling that it will seek to implement any deal it strikes with Iran — including the suspension of sanctions that were originally imposed by Congress — without seeking a vote by either chamber. Instead, an accord that would have far-reaching implications for nuclear proliferation and U.S. national security would be imposed unilaterally by a president with less than two years left in his term.
The New York Times editorial board issued on February 25, 2015 its declaration of support for the Administration, “An Emerging Nuclear Deal With Iran”:
The United States and its partners (Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) have properly focused in the negotiations on curbing Iran’s activities, especially uranium enrichment for weapon purposes. They are trying to structure the agreement so they would know at least a year in advance if Iran moved to speed up its program to build a nuclear bomb. That would allow plenty of time to re-impose sanctions, interrupt the program through cyberwarfare or take military action.
The nuclear threat has dominated Iran’s relations with the United States for more than a decade. If this can be resolved, the two countries may be able to tackle other differences, including Iran’s missile program and its growing involvement in regional conflicts. It won’t be easy, but it could open up space for cooperation.
Mr. Netanyahu, who is scheduled to address Congress next week, has already denounced the deal. The agreement must be judged on the complete package, not on any single provision. Even if the deal is not perfect, the greater risk could well be walking away and allowing Iran to continue its nuclear activities unfettered.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu also contends that the Administration is desirous of ending the isolation of Iran by concluding a nuclear agreement with the P5+1, lifting economic sanctions and forming an alliance to “degrade and defeat” ISIS. Many Israelis and Americans believe that a final nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran may be a bad one. Thus, an invitation was issued on January 21, 2015 by Speaker John Boehner of the US House of Representatives to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress on March 3rd, two weeks prior to a Knesset election on March 17th. The Administration, however, views that as a threat to the possible conclusion of a working nuclear agreement with Iran by March 24th. Netanyahu’s speech before Congress would mark his third address to a joint session. His last one, in May 2011, was a well received bi-partisan occasion. Such is not the case this third time. Democrats are divided; the Administration will not receive Netanyahu in the Oval Office. All while nearly 3 out of 4 Israelis polled do not trust the President to deliver a deal with Iran to protect them against this existential threat. The risk could be a possible nuclear holocaust to wipe Israel off the map of the world and end the “Zionist Enterprise.” 3 out of 5 Americans polled are in favor of Netanyahu speaking and 3 out of 4 suggest that any deal with Iran should be subject to vetting and clearance by Congress. A Senate panel passed new sanctions legislations in late January 2015 for floor consideration shortly following the outcome, if any, of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran on March 24th.
This deepening divide between Washington and Jerusalem constituted another factor in the perfect storm facing Israel. These developments were discussed at a meeting in Northwest Florida in late February 2015. During a question and answer period following the presentation, a member of the audience confirmed that Americans on the Gulf Coast also voice the opinion that Iran’s possession of a nuclear bomb was a threat to them, as well. That comment is reflected in polls that most Americans view Iran, rather than Russia, China or ISIS at the leading threat because of its development of nuclear weapons.
In the run up to PM Netanyahu’s speech before Congress, the Administration, American media and J-Street launched their attack against his appearance in Washington. There was an instant brusque rebuttal by Netanyahu and a senior Israeli official, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice
Charlie Rose Show-PBS, Feb. 24, 2015
On Tuesday evening, February 24, 2015, during a Charlie Rose Interview (watch here) Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice commented:
On both sides, there has now been injected a degree of partisanship which is not only unfortunate. I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship. The relationships has always been bipartisan, we need to keep it that way.
The New York Times in a front page story on Thursday, February 26, 2015, “Talk Toughens As US-Israel Relations Fray,” cited a White House leak that Ms. Rice had “upbraided” Israeli National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen for alleged leaks concerning the negotiations with Iran. Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, said, “Maybe Kerry doesn’t know what we know.” Buried in the front section of the same Times edition was a full page ad by J-Street, which fashions itself as “pro-Peace, pro-Israel” with the headline, “Prime Minister Netanyahu: Congress Isn’t a Prop for Your Election Campaign.”
On Tuesday, February 24, 2015, PM Netanyahu deflected some “partisanship” concerns when he formally declined an invitation from senior Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) to attend a closed session with Democratic members of the US Senate. In his view this was not necessary as he was speaking to an open joint session of Congress on a bi-partisan basis.
Secretary of State Kerry testifying before a House Committee
February 25, 2015
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 Secretary of State Kerry, in testimony before a House Committee hearing, struck out at Netanyahu faulting his judgment about the Iran Talks. He suggested that Netanyahu had been wrong about support of the 2003 Iraq invasion under Bush, an invasion that Kerry had voted for. Kerry concluded, “He may have a judgment that just may not be correct here.”
PM Netanyahu during a campaign stop on Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 in the Israeli town of Ma’ale Adumim responded:
The superpowers are committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but from the agreement that’s being formulated, it appears that they have given up on this commitment.
Against this background we arranged for another in the periodic Middle East Roundtable discussions sponsored by 1330amWEBY of Pensacola, Florida.
Mike Bates: Good afternoon and welcome to Your Turn. This program is a special edition. We do this from time to time, our Middle East round table discussions. I have with me in the studio Jerry Gordon, Senior Editor of the New English Review and its blog The Iconoclast. Welcome Jerry.
Jerry Gordon: Good to be back Mike.
Bates: And joining us from Washington D.C., Shoshana Bryen, She is Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center. Shoshana, welcome.
Shoshana Bryen: Nice to be here.
Bates: Through the magic of satellite telephone we have Dan Diker, live from Jerusalem. Dan Diker is the Executive Producer of the Voice of Israel and the host of “National Security” on the Voice of Israel’s Global Radio Network in Jerusalem. Dan, welcome to Your Turn.
Dan Diker: Thanks, nice to be here Mike.
Bates: This evening Jerry Gordon will be giving a special presentation entitled, “Israel facing a perfect storm.” This event will be held at the First Baptist Church of Bagdad, Florida. Jerry, what is the gist of that presentation?
Gordon: Israel is clearly facing some major international difficulties. At the head of the list is contending with Iran’s nuclear program, the negotiations on the part of Washington as part of the P5+1. There is a new development, the presence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and its proxy Hezbollah on Israel’s Golan frontier. Then there is Bibigate. That is the controversy surrounding the forthcoming speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu on March the third before a joint session of Congress.
Bates: Israel is facing threats from multiple sources.
Bates: Multiple sides and sadly many of those threats are coming from the United States which as an American citizen I am not pleased to acknowledge. However, the truth is the truth. Jerry, I think this is the overriding question about national security. Frankly not just for Israel, not just for the United States but, in fact, for the entire planet. That is the status of the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Does it really look like the Obama Administration is going to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons down the road. Did I read that right? That can’t possibly be!
Gordon: It sure looks like that. Except it is under the aegis of a so-called phased deal over a decade. The reality may be is that Iran already has a nuclear device or is looking for a capability in that direction. That is something that is really consternating. There has been lots of commentary out of Israel objecting to what was announced as breaking news by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other mainstream media in this regard. The question really is whether or not a deal has been struck with the Islamist regime in Tehran that would allow them to become a so-called nuclear breakout nation.
Bates: Shoshana, I have read reports that the Iranians are saying that the American Administration is so desperate for a deal on the Iranian nuclear weapons program that they’ll pretty much concede anything as long as they can hold up a piece of paper and say, “peace for our time.” Is that an accurate depiction of what’s going on in these talks?
Bryen: Some of it is the general tendency of Iranians to overstate the obvious. But yes, the President is looking hard for a deal partly because he knows Israel doesn’t want one. And he finds himself being backed into a corner. He doesn’t want to be having a public argument with Bibi, because people—including many in his own party—believe Bibi is right. He needs a deal now to trumpet his success and shut people up, particularly Bibi, but not only him. His thinking appears to be that ten years from now the Mullahs will have fallen, young Iranian democrats will have taken over, and it will be OK. The big piece of this that he missed is that the Mullahs only represent one part of the Iranian body politic and that is the religious part. Iran is also Persian and Persians are empire-oriented. Even if we get rid of the Mullahs, even if we get rid of the religious basis for governance in Iran and we have secular people, secular people in Persia believe in a Persian Empire. If we kick this can down the road ten years and the Mullahs are gone, Obama thinks that will be a good thing. I’m not sure that’s true.
Bates: Now the mad Mullahs in Iran are somewhat suicidal and apocalyptic because they think that if they do this it will bring about the Twelfth Imam and some sort of everlasting peace under Islam. However, is the secular side of Iranian society they nearly as suicidal and crazy?
Bryen: I don’t think the Mullahs are suicidal. I think the Mullahs have pursued a very hard headed, very correct-from-their-point-of-view approach to their own nuclear capabilities and the understanding of the United States. I don’t think they are suicidal at all.
Bates: And what’s your take on this Dan?
Diker: I would tend to agree that the Mullahs are not suicidal. In fact they are quite rational in many senses if you look at the way they have conducted these negotiation. Let’s be very clear the President of Iran is not conducting these negotiations. Ayatollah Khamenei is conducting these negotiations and his supreme council of advisors is the Mullahs, not to mention the IRGC and that ILC. They have been handling these negotiations in an extremely sophisticated fashion. Let’s remember the Iranians introduced chess to the world, they’re carpet weavers. They are extremely sophisticated at political warfare and they have been doing a number on the United States in terms of political warfare that the former Soviet Union could have learned much from. One has to be very clear certainly from an Israeli point of view that if this deal goes through, this is going to make the world, the free world an impossible place to live in. I believe that the Iranian regime is dead set on acquiring nuclear weapons and their promise to destroy Israel. They say it every day. They discuss it in Farsi several times a day. I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu who is one of the most skilled analysts in having followed the Iranian nuclear program for some twenty-five years. I think that the free world ought listen to him lay out the case against this Iranian regime’s race for nuclear supremacy and stop it in its tracks now. They should not wait until it is too late after they have decided to break out and acquire nuclear weapons which they can do in a matter of months.
Bates: We will get into Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress later. Specifically about these P5+1 talks, they do not include Israel for obvious reasons. The Iranians wouldn’t talk directly to the Israelis. However, shouldn’t Israel be involved in the process since they face the most imminent threat from Tehran?
Diker: Clearly they should. In fact they are behind the scenes. It is very clear to people who are sitting on the inside that the Israel’s have had a very substantial behind the scenes role in these talks. It should be the P5+2, with Germany being one and Israel being two. However, for all kinds of reasons Israel is not included in these negotiations. First and foremost the United States would not want Israel involved in these negotiations because they simply wouldn’t have passed the first stage. Because the Iranian regime’s positions are totally and completely untenable. The notion that Iran would be able to enrich any centrifuges is completely unacceptable. The civilian nuclear programs around the world hosted by Canada and other western countries have nothing to do with centrifuges. They are just not part of the nuclear file. Many countries want to have peaceful civilian nuclear power. The notion that the Iranians would claim that they need centrifuges to produce peaceful nuclear power is an absurdity. The fact that the P5+1 have allowed any uranium to be enriched is an extremely dangerous proposition. That is the message that Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to bring to the American people and by extension to the world community.
Bates: What about the administration not even keeping the Israeli government apprised of the progress? I read in the Jerusalem Post last week and confirmed in other sources too, that the administration is not telling the Israelis what is going on because they (1) don’t trust them and (2) believe that Netanyahu is going to somehow undermine the talks through strategic leaks.
Bryen: They might be right. The Administration is holding back because it wants to present a full and complete deal. They figure everybody will get all excited. “We have removed the threat of nuclear war from the world and everything is great and I’m brilliant,” is the President’s view. At that point, Israel’s sour grapes wouldn’t have mattered. Once it’s done, if Bibi came to the Hill and said the deal is done but it’s a bad deal,” people would have said, “Too bad. We’ve saved the world from nuclear war.” So the President was hoping to get all this done before the terms leaked. It didn’t work out that way. In this day and age you cannot assume that things will not leak. Bits and pieces of the deal have been coming out for a long time and opposition has been growing including in the Congress. Even The Washington Post thinks that the President is doing a bad deal with Iran—and for The Post, which is a mouthpiece for the Administration to go that far is amazing. The administration is irritated. They are irritated with The Post, they are irritated with Senator Menendez of their own party, they are irritated with a lot of people and the easiest person to take that out on is the representative of the State of Israel. That’s why they don’t complain about The Post
Bates: Dan did you want to add to that?
Diker: I think that Shoshana said it correctly. I think that Israel and its Prime Minister are being hung out to dry by this White House. I don’t think we have ever seen anything like this in Israeli – American relations where the existential survival of one of America’s key allies is clearly at risk. The White House has expressed tremendous disappointment by the third most powerful official in the U.S. Government Speaker of the House, John Boehner having invited the Prime Minister to lay out his expertise in front of the American people. An invitation directly by representatives of the American people. The White House who did receive enough warning beforehand and simply is furious about that invitation because they know that Prime Minister Netanyahu has the expertise and the know how to make the opposite case. The White House does not want that case made to the American people because they do not want the small print read that reflects the real dangers of this compromised deal with the most dangerous regime in the world.
Bates: Shoshana this deal is not being called a treaty. Does that mean that the United States Senate has no say in what happens with this agreement?
Bryen: That’s not true. There is something called the “Case Act” which was passed in 1972 after the Senate found out that the Executive Branch had executed a series of letters pledging American help and support to various countries, including Laos, Ethiopia and others, that Congress didn’t know about. Senator Clifford Case, a Republican from New Jersey authored a law (the Case Act) that said anything between the United States and other countries that looks like a treaty that sounds like a treaty, even if it’s not on paper needs to be reported to the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committee by the Secretary of State. That is existing U.S. law, the Case Act. I will tell you it is honored in the breach. Many Presidents have failed to give information requested under the Act to Congress. But if I were sitting in Congress right now I would print the Case Act in capital letters and send it to the White House. Let the Court tell me later it was unconstitutional.
Bates: So does that mean there would be a vote?
Bryen: No, it doesn’t mean there would be a vote but it means Congress would know the terms of the Iran agreement before a treaty was signed, because the timeline on reporting to the Senate and the House Foreign Relations Committees is very short. They would have an opportunity to deal with an Iran agreement. Historical point: President Nixon gave secret letters to the President of South Vietnam saying the U.S. would intervene militarily if the North invaded the South after our withdrawal in 1974. He paid no attention to the Case Act and didn’t give Congress the letters. Since the Senate didn’t know that the president promised American troops, it passed the Church Act, prohibiting U.S. military aid to South Vietnam. You had the President promising military support and you had the Senate forbidding precisely such support. We had two arms of the government doing two opposite things. In the current case of Iran, that could be a full-scale disaster. The Case Act is designed to allow Congress an opportunity to make laws with full insight into Executive Branch actions.
Bates: With no vote, what I am seeing is informing Congress but not asking for the consent of Congress. Which may mean no matter how bad the deal is, hey, guys, here’s the horrible deal. You can’t do anything about it but at least I told you. Is that right?
Bryen: Not exactly. You can pass other kinds of laws. Henry Kissinger tried to give the Russians huge amounts of money in loans guaranteed by the U.S. government. Congress found out about it by using a Case Act request. The Senate then passed a law that said no loan guarantees to the Soviets beyond, you know, two and a half bucks will ever be given without Congressional approval. It killed the loan guarantees. You can kill things by going around them. You don’t have to kill them directly
Bates: The problem with that is?
Bryen: That’s what the Case Act would allow.
Bates: The problem with passing law is without two-thirds of both houses President Obama simply vetoes it and now it’s not law.
Bryen: Let’s watch what happens to the Keystone Pipeline. Let’s see if he vetoes it and let’s see what people do. There is huge support on the hill for the Keystone Pipeline project. If they override the veto on this I would think he’s not invulnerable.
Gordon: Dan at the start of this program I talked about some of the issues that I am going to be presenting tonight. One of them was on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent statement about Iran opening up a third front. In January we had an event on the Golan that resulted in Senior Commanders from Hezbollah and the Quds Force being killed. What can you give us in the way of background about that?
Diker: Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Defense Minister Ya’alon have been speaking publicly about a new Iranian Regime front opening on the Golan Heights. Iran is at war with Israel. The Iranian regime has been at war with Israel since 1979. The most recent episode of the Iranian regime’s war against Israel has been opening up of a new front on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. According to foreign news reports, Israel struck a convoy killing a Senior Iranian Regime General and twelve Quds Force Operatives in addition to Hezbollah. The reports that we have on the Israeli side are that these operatives were planning a series of rocket attacks, bombings, anti-tank missile strikes and other infiltrations against Israel not dissimilar from what we saw in the South last summer by the Hamas. Hamas has been working fairly closely in terms of training, tactics and strategies with Hezbollah. Remember that the Hezbollah is not an independent Lebanese Organization. They are an organization that is funded, directed, and weaponized by the Iranian regime directly on the orders of Ayatollah Khamenei. This is a very dangerous development for Israel because it means that Iran’s proxies are right on Israel’s borders. Hezbollah for example has 100,000 rockets that are positioned against Israel, if they were a nuclear power it would be a complete strategic game changer not only for Israel but for the entire Middle East. Israel is surrounded by Iranian proxies even to its east with the Palestinian Authority, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Islamic Jihad, Hamas in the South and Hezbollah in the North. That creates a major redline challenge for Israel to maintain security. It is a major security redline and it really should be conveyed to the audience here that Iran is at war with Israel. Iran is surrounding Israel and it will have to bear the consequences of Israeli defense operations in order to secure the only Jewish state that exists in the world.
Gordon: Shoshana, what can you tell us about an event that occurred last summer after the war? Was there a meeting between the Quds Force Commander General Suleymani and Khaled Meshaal of Hamas?
Bryen: As Dan was saying, Israel is surrounded by enemies; Hamas being one of those. Hamas and Iran have an up and down relationship. Qatar was doing most of the funding of Hamas but no longer is, mostly under Saudi pressure to stop. The Egyptians are killing Hamas operatives on the border in the Sinai and I mean literally and figuratively—they are killing them and taking away their smuggling tunnels. They are making it difficult to import weapons. Hamas needs Iran and Iran loves the idea of Hamas coming back into the fold because that presents Israel with another problem on its borders. I would say that if you are looking at Hamas and Hezbollah, Hezbollah in some ways at the moment is a little bit restrained. I say that advisedly because restrained is a relative term. They have lost more than a thousand fighters in Syria which is a lot. They have trouble in Lebanon with Sunnis coming over from Syria and fighting them. Both of these things make it harder, though not impossible, to think that Hezbollah would want to provoke Israel. Hamas, although it does have internal problems and it is fighting among its own leadership and with other strains of Palestinians, the Iranians would be perfectly happy to go back to helping Hamas fight Israel now while Hezbollah is finding it more difficult to be overtly threatening.
Gordon: Dan you want to add something?
Dan: The other thing that has to be added here is that Iran is making a play to be the unquestioned hegemon and leader of the Arab Muslim world. Obviously the ISIS, the Islamic State challenge to Iran is substantial and at the same time there are many who believe that Iran actually established ISIS in the beginning of its barbaric and savage run through the Middle East. It serves Iran’s interest, as the radical Shiite power in the Middle East, to back a Sunni radical organization especially a Muslim Brotherhood organization like Hamas.
Mike: Dan, you said something that shocked me. You said that Iran might have established ISIS. Why would a Shia Iran want to establish a Sunni ISIS?
Diker: Radical Shiite Iran that seeks to control Iraq in its totality /needs a foil in the radical Sunni world in order to justify to a majority Shiite country like Iraq that Iran and its proxy forces and militias and special security groups are backing them. Iran regime has done this before. They create enemies in order to fight them and at the same time benefits the Iranian regime. They can make the argument to the West that a stable Islamic republic like Iran should be backed in order to fight savage barbarians in the Islamic State. The Islamic State controls large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. On the Iraqi scene it’s very logical from an Iranian regime point of view for them to have established ISIS and help fund and arm them in order to fight them afterwards.
Bates: From an Iranian point of view what you say makes sense. Why would the fighters of ISIS go along with it? We are going to be created by you and then you are going to kill us? That doesn’t make sense to me.
Diker: They don’t exactly tell them upfront what they are going to do because what they use, they use Israel and the West as a card in order to create the sort of pyrotechnic alliances between themselves. Remember, it was clearly stated and evidentiary that Iran and Al-Qaeda worked hand in hand on 9/11. Al-Qaeda operatives fled to Iran and were accepted by the Iranian regime. Therefore radical Sunni and radical Shiite organizations have worked together and do work together when it comes to common enemies. At the same time they kill each other by the thousands which is another way of saying welcome to the Middle East.
Bates: There is an Arab proverb that says the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Gordon: That is one way of characterizing it.
Bryen: Actually, the enemy of my enemy can also be my enemy. He can also just be less my enemy today than he will be tomorrow. There is so many permutations. That’s why it’s an Arab proverb because there are so many permutations.
Diker: There you go.
Gordon: Shoshana, there is also another wing of Iran’s campaign that occurred recently, that was the pell-mell takeover of Sanaa, Yemen by the Houthi insurgents who are part of the Yazid sect of Shia, Islam. How does that put both Saudi Arabia and Israel in jeopardy?
Bryen: It does a lot of things to a lot of people, including having a major impact on the United States. People didn’t pay a lot of attention to Yemen. It’s a poor country at the boot of Saudi Arabia and nobody cares about it. However, we made major investments in Yemen so we could have our people there and take out Al-Qaeda leaders with our drones. We failed to pay attention to the Houthis in the North who were supported by Iran. This is another case, as Dan says, of Iran finding people to set up as enemies, so they supported the Houthis. The Houthis end up in power in Sanaa and they are now about to sit on the exit from the Red Sea. This creates issues for Israel because the Red Sea is a major outlet for Israeli goods. It bothers Saudi Arabia because aside from the export issue, it would put Iranian proxies on the Red Sea, the Saudi western border. More important than either of those, though, is the American problem. Directly opposite Yemen on the other side of the Red Sea is Djibouti, another of those places we don’t talk about. The United States has a major military installation in Djibouti to fight the counter-terror war in Africa. It’s the major base for AFRICOM. Now we are looking across the very small width of the Red Sea at Iranian-supported fighters. The Obama administration is not prepared for that and has paid very little attention to it. I suspect AFRICOM Commanders are very concerned with the Houthi revolution in Yemen, but I don’t think anybody in Washington has figured it out yet.
Gordon: Dan is there a strategic alliance between Egypt under President Al-Sisi and Israel trying to combat Hamas and ISIS, has it been effective?
Diker: The answer is yes, Jerry. The relationship between President Al -Sisi’s Egypt and Israel represents a serious upgrade in relations. I have heard it said by some friends on the Egyptian side that they consider Israel a strategic ally as opposed to just relations that are amenable one another. This is a major upgrade over the relationship between Mubarak or Sadat’s Egypt and Israel. It is based on a very real and present shared threat which is a combination of the Hamas and the radical Sunni ISIS affiliates in the Sinai. They are attacking and killing and attacking Egyptian Security forces by the scores if not the hundreds. I know there are great attempts to keep that quiet because the Egyptian Street is restive. Egypt has gone through two major earthquakes, politically in the last few years. Al-Sisi is trying more than either of his predecessor to read the Egyptian Street and remain sensitive to Egyptian Street. It may be a good sign of a certain democratization that’s taking place in Egypt as a function of major public outbursts and coups over the last couple of years. For Israel and fighting terror that has been a major upgrade in the relationship. There is a major shared directive to attack and neutralize Hamas as much as possible. I will say that for those people who believe that Israel in maintaining its sea blockade against the Gaza Strip, let’s remember that the Egyptians have completely closed the Rafah Crossing. There is only one possible entry and exit for goods and people and that is through Israel because Egypt will have none of it. Egypt has closed completely their side of the border with Gaza.
Bates: I would ask you why Egypt is not condemned for denying deliveries into Gaza when Israel is condemned for sending things into Gaza?
Diker: You actually said it right. I don’t know Mike if you meant to say Israel is condemned for sending things into Gaza.
Bates: I said it exactly as I meant to say it. Israel does deliver goods to Gaza, but is condemned for it.
Diker: We are condemned for supplying, virtually everything. Let’s bear in mind Israel supplies electricity to Gaza, Israel supplies water to Gaza, Israel supplies building materials to Gaza, Israel supplies food to Gaza and people wonder why. The fact is that Gaza is controlled by a radical Muslim Brotherhood organization that is no different than ISIS in its ultimate goals. Its methods of execution are a little bit different, but its goals are the same. Yet Israel is still for humanitarian purposes, supplying electricity to the people of Gaza so that they can survive every day against the radical Islamic regime that has imposed itself on the Gazan people.
Bates: Israel continues to provide all of that even when suffering under daily rocket barrages from Gaza. It has completely defied logic but the Israelis do it out of humanitarian purposes and yes, I exactly meant to say they are condemned for it. The double standard against Israel in the world is completely illogical. I just don’t understand it.
Diker: There is a triple standard. Many people don’t know this. Israel allowed the wife and the granddaughter of Hamas President Ismail Haniyeh to come to Israel to be cared for at a the hospital in Tel-Aviv. Yes you heard it correctly. Israel admitted the wife and the granddaughter of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. As he was ordering the rocketing of kindergartens and synagogues and cities in Israel we admitted them for humanitarian and medical care in Israeli hospitals. I don’t think there is a precedent for that in the world.
Bates: That reminds me of a story; it’s probably a decade old by now. I believe her name was Wafa al-Biri. The woman who was burned in the Gaza Strip while cooking apparently her pot blew up and burned her face and body. She was treated for those burns in an Israeli hospital and it saved her life. When she returning to Israel through the checkpoint out of Gaza to seek further treatment at Israeli hospitals by Israeli Jewish physicians she was stopped with a suicide vest tied to her body.
Diker: Yes, that’s correct.
Bates: I’m pretty sure I was right on the name, Wafa al-Biri. That demonstrated the ungratefulness of the people of Gaza for what Israel inexplicably really does for them. It is just beyond me.
Bryen: Dan I would say there is a precedent – and it is also Israel. Israel is on the Golan Heights, opposite Syria, and Syrians who have been injured in their civil war are brought into Israel for treatment by Israeli doctors. Somehow the word has traveled even to Israel’s enemies that Israel will do the right thing.
Bates: A very good point to bring up Shoshana. I read about that just the other day that they are bringing injured Syrians across the border into Israel and they are receiving as good care as an Israeli citizen would and brought back to good health? They are sent home at that point but the medical treatment is given because the Israeli people by and large are a very decent people. However, they are not portrayed that way in the press and by politicians. It is inexcusable that they are not accurately portrayed.
Bates: Dan, you are in Israel so you’ve got your finger on the pulse better than the rest of us. What are the opinions of the Israelis regarding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s acceptance of the invitation from Speaker Boehner to address a joint session of Congress on March 3rd?
Diker: Overall, Israelis support the Prime Minister’s accepting the invitation of Speaker Boehner to address a joint session of Congress. The Israeli public holds a rather negative view of President Obama. He is not viewed as a President who would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He is not viewed as a President whose national security mandate would actually help Israel. The Israeli public have become quite suspicious of the President. Let’s also bear in mind that the President’s orders last year during the Gaza war prevented Hellfire missiles from being supplied to Israel in order to rearm the Israeli Defense Forces against the terror tunnels coming out of Hamas controlled Gaza. That was a fairly unpleasant event and the Israeli public holds this particular White House in certain kind of suspicion. At the same time when Netanyahu speaks to the Israeli public about the Iranian threat that rings true for the Israeli public. They have experienced the direct results of Iranian backed terrorism since 1979. The program started in full blast in 1989. Nonetheless Iranian-backed terrorism has been very clear to the Israeli public. When Netanyahu talks about national security issues and specifically isolates Iran, he wins on that issue. That will go a long way towards potentially assuring Mr. Netanyahu’s road to victory in the upcoming March 17th elections.
Bates: Why is there such stern opposition by Obama to this address to Congress?
Diker: I think it’s clear that there is only one person in the world that stands between the President of the United States and ill-conceived compromised deal with the Iranian regime and nuclear weapons and that is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is probably the most skilled and experienced of any world leader on the Iranian file. He knows the facts, he knows the numbers and he is a very cogent rhetorician, a great lecturer and a great convincer. I think that the President is very concerned that a Prime Minister with such expertise was invited to address Congress on this existential issue for Americans as for the rest of the free world. He may convince the Congress and the American public that they have to take a very tough line on this what looks like an imminent compromise deal between the Iranian regime and the P5+1. The President doesn’t want the Prime Minister anywhere near Congress but it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the outcome. It looks like the Prime Minister will address Congress and make the case for the free world against a nuclear Iran.
Gordon: Shoshana, speaking about Bibi’s speech before the Congress we had two ranking Democratic Senators who wanted to have a meeting with Bibi after his address. What does that signify and isn’t there a message that the media is not conveying about who will show up to listen to him?
Bryen: That Senator Feinstein and Senator Durbin, two Senior Democrats, want to have a closed door meeting with the Prime Minister I think reflects their concern that the American public has concern. I would add to what Dan said, it’s not just that Netanyahu speaks to the Israeli public, he speaks to the American public and they trust him also as an expert which again, aggravates the President of the United States. Iran is named by people in poll after poll in this country as the major threat to the United States, not Putin’s Russia, not China—Iran. Given that, when the Prime Minister of Israel is coming here, Americans want their Representatives and their Senators to listen. So Feinstein and Durbin are feeling the pressure—caught between their political desire to support the President and see lots of Democrats skip the joint session, and their fear that their constituents will be angry with them and their party.
Bates: And so this invitation by Senators Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein, this is for a post-address closed door discussion that from what I have read is only going to be attended by Democrats. Are these Senators Durbin and Feinstein trying to politicize this?
Bates: To one party’s advantage when it’s a joint bipartisan session of Congress?
Bryen: Yes, because they are feeling pressure. First of all there is the pressure from American public that believes that Prime Minister Netanyahu is the expert and needs to be heard. Following that there is also a concern that Democrats in general are less pro-Israel than Republicans in general. It’s not always true but it certainly does look true in Washington these days and Senator Durbin and Senator Feinstein want to be able to go to their constituents, specifically their Jewish constituents, and say, “Don’t leave the Democratic Party in the lurch. We are good friends of Israel. See, we brought the Prime Minister into a private meeting. We got him to tell us the secrets.” That’s what they want but I don’t know that it will work. The American public is not necessarily as naïve as people tend to say it is.
Gordon: Shoshana, we have had two significant Generals talk about the fact that the President’s plan for a reauthorization of operations I guess that occurred under President Bush lacks something. It is called a name. What is it and why is it important?
Bryen: The Generals understand much more about the cultural reference points of our enemies than the President does. They understand that different things can – not always, but can—influence people in different ways. They have been there, they have fought those people and the Generals want the United States to have a frame of reference that takes into account the culturalism on the other side. You can split that a lot of ways but the White House is not very good at this.
Bates: Jerry Gordon, Shoshana Bryen, Dan Diker, thank you for joining us.
Listen to the February 24, 2015 1330amWEBY “Your Turn’ Middle East Round Table discussion.
Also see Jerry Gordon’s collection of interviews, The West Speaks.
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