Wednesday, April 24, 2019

 Vic Rosenthal's Weekly Column

It’s become a truism that the hatred and harassment of individual Jews and Jewish communities that once was prevalent in the lands of the diaspora before the rebirth of a Jewish state has since morphed into loathing and persecution of that state. 

There are other parallels. Jewish communities in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East had a precarious existence, depending on the good will of the local prince or emir. If the ruler liked the Jews – or, probably more correctly – found them more useful than despicable, they could live their lives relatively undisturbed. If, on the other hand – well, you know the story.

Today the position of the Jewish state is also dependent on powerful people and entities far beyond Israel’s control. In particular, the State of Israel is strongly affected by the policies and actions of the US. In America, foreign policy, and especially practical actions and reactions to events in the international arena, are primarily in the hands of the president and his appointees. These days, the President of the United States is the “prince” whose attitude most affects whether Israel thrives or withers.

Israel could have tried harder to reduce her dependence on the US and her susceptibility to pressure from the American government. She should have. I would like to believe that the desirability of this is becoming evident to Israeli officials, but the pull of “free” military hardware is hard to ignore. And there is some truth in the idea that Israelis simply admire the US and value a close relationship with her.

In recent times, Khamenei has been playing Haman to the American president’s Ahasuerus. The Iranian playbook calls for Israel to be battered by simultaneous attacks from Hezbollah’s and Hamas’ rocket forces, and invaded by proxies from both the North and South. The regime is working on increasing the number, payloads, defensibility, and accuracy of the rockets in the hands of her proxies as well as in Iran herself. At the same time she is developing new proxies by establishing Iraqi Shiite militias in Syria, modeled on the Lebanese Hezbollah. All this is intended to be shielded under a nuclear umbrella, whose development is proceeding.

Taken by itself, it seems that war between Israel and Iran is guaranteed. But there is one other possibility – the only alternative that I can imagine, given the objectives of the Iranian regime. And that is that the regime can be toppled by internal opposition encouraged by economic pressure from the US.

It’s a longshot, because a regime that is demonstrably willing to shoot down anti-government protesters in the street, that is buttressed by paramilitary militias, and that terrorizes and murders opposition figures, is hard to overthrow. The regime is quite prepared to control the allocation of resources in such a way that the general population suffers bitterly as long it remains in power, so economic pressure needs to be tough and protracted. 

The alternative is a very destructive war for both Israel and Iran. If it comes to this, then I would hope that Israel will strike preemptively and hard. But that’s another discussion.

So now we can see the immediate effect of the attitude by the American president, the good or bad “prince” that holds the destiny of the Jewish community – in this case the State of Israel – in his hands. Barack Obama, following a nakedly anti-Israel script originally laid down in the 2006 Iraq Study Report (written in part by his close advisor Ben Rhodes), facilitated the Iranian plan. His administration negotiated a deal with the Iranians that removed economic sanctions, shielded the Iranian nuclear project, and even provided pallets of cash which went to support Iranian terrorist initiatives in Lebanon and Syria. At the same time, he punished Israeli PM Netanyahu whenever possible, kept up the pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians that would weaken Israel’s ability to defend herself, and – along with officials like Secretary of State Kerry – directly contributed to the public demonization of the Jewish state.

President Trump, on the other hand, has been the Good Prince. He recognized Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, reduced subsidies to the Palestinians, and – it seems – will not try to force the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state as a dagger next to Israel’s heart. Most important, he has taken the US out of the Iran deal and re-imposed sanctions – the only possible road to a peaceful end to Iranian aggression.

I know I am not exaggerating when I say that President Trump is a controversial figure in the US. But he is not controversial in Israel, where almost everyone agrees that he has been the most pro-Israel president – in terms of actual actions, not just words – since Truman. And most Israelis would be happy to see him re-elected in 2020.

But that’s up to American voters to decide. And unfortunately, perhaps in part because Trump has been so pro-Israel, many of his opponents have moved in the opposite direction. Six of the most likely candidates to oppose Trump have said that if elected they would restore US participation in the nuclear deal – that is, they would remove the sanctions re-imposed by President Trump. The Democratic National Committee also passed a resolution calling for the US to return to the deal. The phony “pro-Israel” organization J Street has been lobbying candidates to speak out in favor of the deal and even more ominously, Obama’s shadowy National Security Action group, co-chaired by the ever-present Ben Rhodes, is pushing to restore the Obama Administration’s dangerous Iran policy.

This may be effective as anti-Trump or anti-Israel policy, but it is not in the American interest. The Iranian regime has threatened over and over to attack American assets or even to conduct terrorist attacks in the US herself. “Death to America” is not just a slogan, and the US is not referred to as “The Great Satan” out of desire for friendship. The policy of rapprochement pursued by the Obama Administration was pocketed and exploited by the regime, which did not waver from its objectives of total control of the Middle East and its resources, the establishment of a Shiite caliphate, and – its ultimate goal – replacing the US as the dominant world superpower.

If the Iran deal becomes an issue in the 2020 election, it will be bad for Israel, which does not want to be seen as “taking sides” in an American election. But Trump will likely cite Israel’s security as part of his reason for re-imposing sanctions, while his opponents will accuse “the Israel lobby” of undue influence on US policy. Anything that Israel does or says relating to Iran will be interpreted as improper intervention in the election.

And just like the unfortunate Jews in the Pale of Settlement and the Jewish neighborhoods of Alexandria or Baghdad, the Jewish state will find herself yet again unwillingly involved in and battered by the conflicts of princes.

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