Caroline Glick: A Trumpian Israeli initiative
Then of course, there is Jerusalem. Since 1948 the US has refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – or even as part of Israel. This policy of nonrecognition – embodied by the US refusal to transfer the US Embassy to Jerusalem – has been maintained by a bipartisan consensus despite the fact that for the past 20 years, US law has required the State Department to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy to Jerusalem.
When Trump promised to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, his words were greeted with cynicism.
But then this week his senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said Trump is serious about moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
In one fell swoop, the 68-year-old consensus is gone.
Thirty-five years ago, on December 14, 1981, Israel took a Trump-like step. Israel took a wrecking ball to received wisdom.
That day, the Knesset passed the Golan Heights Law. Then-prime minister Menachem Begin decided on the initiative the day before. In less than 24 hours, the law went from an idea in Begin’s head into the law books.
The Golan Heights law canceled the Military Government and Civil Administration that had governed the area since 1967 and replaced them with Israeli law and administration.
The Reagan administration was livid. Begin had neither asked Ronald Reagan for permission nor given Reagan a head’s-up on what he was about to do.
Begin was clearly operating on the basis of the “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission” protocol.
In the event, the Americans weren’t really mad.
Reagan prevented the UN Security Council from sanctioning Israel for its action.
The Syrian regime did nothing. The Arab world yawned.
Israel was spared international condemnation in large part because of the way Begin explained the purpose of the law.
Early in 2013, when the nation was still in shock over the December 14, 2012 Newtown massacre, President Obama decided that one of his administration’s top priorities would be to pressure Israel to release scores of convicted terrorists, including the killers of children. The result would turn out to be a grotesque foreign-policy “success” that the media virtually ignored.
While political leaders, including presidents, are expected to flip-flop occasionally, this might be the first administration in history to flip-flop on the issue of child massacres. The first anniversary of the Newtown killings was preceded by two other noteworthy anniversaries of child murders that the Obama administration reacted to in chillingly conflicting ways, apparently based on the victims’ nationality and religion.
To observe the 50th anniversary of the 1963 firebombing murders of four African-American girls in Birmingham, President Obama solemnly paid tribute to the victims, who were also posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for “major achievement in the recipient’s field.”
One month later, Israel marked a similar tragic milestone—the 25th anniversary of the firebombing murders of the nine-months pregnant Rachel Weiss, a 26-year-old second-grade teacher, and her sons—Netanel, 4; Rafael, 2; and Ephraim, 21 months. Israeli soldier David Delorosa also died in a heroic attempt to save them. Israel considered imposing the death penalty for the first time since Adolf Eichmann was put to death in 1962.
Unfortunately, the Weiss brothers did not look like Obama’s own imagined sons; and unfortunately, they and their mother (a victim of a real war on women) were citizens of the nation Obama’s mentor Jeremiah Wright referred to as “that dirty word.” And so, using Secretary of State John Kerry as his point man, Obama began pushing for the release of their killers, along with scores of other terrorists convicted of murder or attempted murder.
The two perpetrators of the 1988 bus firebombing and their fellow terrorists were apparently freed simply because Palestinian officials requested it—reportedly the same reason Obama’s Internal Revenue Service began persecuting pro-Israel organizations.
President-elect Donald Trump announced on Thursday evening he will nominate attorney David Friedman to serve as the next American ambassador to Israel.
“The bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I’m president,” Trump said in a statement published on his transition team’s website. “As the United States’ ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries. He has been a long-time friend and trusted advisor to me. His strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission and be a tremendous asset to our country as we strengthen the ties with our allies and strive for peace in the Middle East. Nothing is more critical than protecting the security of our citizens at home and abroad.”
The 57-year-old Friedman — a Jewish Long Island native — was regularly consulted with by Trump on Israel-related matters during the presidential election campaign.
“I am deeply honored and humbled by the confidence placed in me by President-elect Trump to represent the United States as its ambassador to Israel,” Friedman said in statement on Thursday. “I intend to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have been excused for dancing a jig in Friday morning’s wee hours when US President-elect Donald Trump announced that his long time bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, is his nominee as Washington’s next ambassador to Israel.
For Friedman is the anti-Martin Indyk, the anti-Daniel Kurtzer, two former Jewish ambassadors to Israel who often obsessed about the settlements. If Kertzer and Indyk, both when they served as ambassador and when they left to take over other positions, saw additional construction anywhere beyond the Green Line as the main hurdle to Mideast peace, than Friedman – the President of American Friends of Bet El Institutions – takes a completely opposing view.
Current ambassador Dan Shapiro has faithfully towed the Obama administration’s position of opposing the settlements, but never transmitted the same degree of vehement opposition as did Kurtzer, or especially Indyk. And Indyk was not bit-player in the Obama administration’s Mideast policy, serving as John Kerry’s special envoy in 2013-2014 when the US Secretary of State launched his failed attempt to solve the Mideast conflict in nine months.
During that period, and after, Indyk – who was Washington’s ambassador here twice, once when Netanyahu was prime minister from 1995 to 1997, and then again briefly during the reign of Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon from 2000 to 2001 – never hid his distaste for Netanyahu and his policies.
And now comes Friedman, a man who questions whether a two-state solution is realistic, who favors construction in the settlements, who wants to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, and who detests J Street. Going from Indyk as a central interlocutor to Friedman, Netanyahu has to feel that he died and went to heaven.
It is not that Friedman will be setting policy. There is a big difference between the power to set policy, which is Trump’s, and influence. But Friedman will definitely have influence.
But didn’t Trump say he wanted to be neutral?
In February 2016, then-Republican presidential hopeful Trump called Israeli-Palestinian peace “probably the toughest agreement of any kind to make,” but vowed to give it “one hell of a shot.”
He also pledged he would do that by being “sort of a neutral guy,” when pressed by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough over whether he ascribed fault to either side for failing to reach an accord. “A lot of people have gone down in flames trying to make that deal. So I don’t want to say whose fault is it,” he said. “I don’t think it helps.”
Trump took immediate heat for this promise on the campaign trail, and seemed to indicate a walk-back during his speech at the 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference and elsewhere, but he has not explicitly rescinded this posture.
Friedman argued, however, that his language has been misunderstood. “What he was really referring to was trying to sponsor negotiations that would take place without preconditions,” he said. “That was what he viewed as neutrality, and that’s frankly been the view of the Israeli government for some time.”
Friedman cited Obama’s demand in his first term that Netanyahu place a moratorium on all West Bank settlement construction, as a trust-building measure, to be “an example of the absence of neutrality, but it’s in favor of the Palestinians against the Israelis.”
Within an hour of President-elect Donald Trump announcing Thursday that David Friedman, his adviser and long-time friend, was his choice to be the next US ambassador to Israel, liberal Jewish groups let loose with scathing condemnations of the appointment.
“J Street is vehemently opposed to the nomination of David Friedman,” the organization’s president, Jeremy Ben Ami, said in a statement. “This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk.”
In a formal statement, J Street said it would “vehemently” oppose Friedman’s confirmation in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the National Jewish Democratic Council tweeted: “Trump must stand for a strong US-Israel relationship and take it seriously. [There] hasn’t ever been a less experienced pick for US ambassador to Israel.”
While it was always unlikely that Trump, who vowed on the campaign trail to adopt a radically different posture on Israel than President Barack Obama’s, would appoint an envoy to the Jewish left’s satisfaction, the choice of a man whose views represent such a profound break with US foreign policy orthodoxy seemed to stir intense emotions.
As President-elect Donald Trump moves closer to his January inauguration, many at the United Nations could be excused for being worried given his critical pronouncements on the world body over the years.
Trump’s views are at odds with the U.N. on a variety of issues – ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the Paris climate treaty to the resettling of millions of refugees.
Well aware of those differences, outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent Trump a congratulatory note emphasizing that the U.N. will be counting on him “to strengthen the bonds of international cooperation as we strive together to uphold shared ideals, combat climate change, advance human rights, promote mutual understanding … to achieve lives of peace, prosperity and dignity for all.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump sent a strong and unequivocal message to the U.N. at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C.
“The United Nations is not a friend of democracy, it’s not a friend to freedom, it’s not a friend even to the United States of America where, as you know, it has its home, and it is surely not a friend to Israel,” Trump said in March.
David Singer: France Humiliated by Abbas but Israel Remains Focused
Surely it would have been much easier – and certainly much cheaper and more effective – for France to pick up the phone and invite both Israel and the PLO to Paris to sit down and resume their negotiations (stalled since 2014) without pre-conditions and outside foreign interference.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had publicly expressed his readiness to do so on many occasions – but PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas refused to indicate his willingness to do likewise.
The international community may well be concerned to see the two-state solution – the creation of a second Arab State in former Palestine in addition to Jordan – slowly sinking into oblivion.
However the way to resuscitate it was not by calling an international conference – but by threatening both parties with retaliatory action if they failed to meet somewhere at some nominated time and place.
Netanyahu made it very clear to France on 7 December that he would be willing to attend such a one-on-one meeting with Abbas if the conference planned for December 21 was cancelled.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke, by telephone, with French President François Hollande a short while ago today and told him that if there is no international conference in Paris, he would come to meet with Abu Mazen for direct talks without preconditions.
Israel will not attend an international conference, which will not contribute to achieving peace.”
The emergence of mutual security threats over the past few years has facilitated a growing partnership between Egypt and Israel. “Egypt and Israel are probably closer now for any number of reasons than they have been at any time since the peace treaty was signed in 1979,” explains Aaron David Miller, an advisor to several secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations.
“Press reports suggest that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Sisi talk frequently – some articles even say as much as once a week,” says David Schenker, Director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Furthermore, Sisi’s crackdown on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as well as his public disdain for Hamas, the Brotherhood’s offshoot in Gaza, has strongly resonated with the Israeli leadership.
As part of the joint effort to combat militants in Sinai, Israel granted Egypt permission to increase its troop presence there beyond the limits established in the 1979 peace agreement.
“The fact that Egypt has had as much latitude as it has in fighting the Islamic State and other groups in Sinai without drawing Israel’s ire speaks volumes to the level of coordination that is presumably happening behind the scenes,” said Perry Cammack, a fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
However, trade between the two nations has been limited, while feelings of animosity toward Israel continue to permeate Egyptian society. “Anti-Israel (and anti-American) material continues to appear in Egypt’s state-run media as well as privately owned media, says Michele Dunne, Middle East Program Director at the Carnegie Endowment.
Elliott Abrams: How to Support Democracy in the Arab World
When the Arab Spring began in 2011, supporters of democracy in the Middle East had widespread hopes that the region might turn a corner and move from autocracy to democracy. Those hopes have been realized reasonably well in Tunisia, which has seen free elections and the peaceful alternation of power between political parties. But many other Arab countries have cracked down on dissent and political speech.
The United States should nevertheless support those seeking peaceful change toward more open and democratic political systems. The Arab uprisings of 2011–2012 suggest that the public desire for change is widespread, and democratic political systems provide paths for peaceful change that can accommodate many different social and economic views through compromise.
On the other hand, governments that maintain power solely through repression, like many of the so-called republics in the Arab world, are illegitimate and inherently unstable. While none of the Arab monarchies has been overthrown since the Arab Spring, they too must include their populations in governance. In Jordan and Morocco, this seems to be the monarchs’ intent.
U.S. support for democracy and human rights in the Arab world has varied over time, and presidential administrations have too often preferred dealing with autocrats to supporting their critics. President-Elect Donald J. Trump will soon face these choices, and his campaign rhetoric suggests that he may view support for democracy as a luxury the United States cannot afford when faced with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State. But Islamic extremism is an idea, and while it cannot be defeated without arms, it cannot be defeated by arms alone. A better idea, democracy, is a formidable and necessary weapon.
President-elect Donald Trump has nominated ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state. Given his extensive involvement in the Middle East with the Arab oil producers and seeming lack of exposure to Israel, the immediate response of some in the pro-Israel community has been fear that Tillerson will embrace the anti-Israel positions of his former customers.
That is a possibility, although with a president as staunchly pro-Israel as Trump that would seem highly unlikely. But I think that Tillerson could actually be a catalyst for peace precisely because of his good relations with the Gulf Arabs.
In short, Tillerson’s extensive relationships with the Arab world can be leveraged to pressure and influence those governments to recognize and have diplomatic relations with Israel and to identify militant Islam rather than the Jewish state as the real enemy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved up one position to 20th in Forbes Magazine’s newly-published 2016 list of the world’s most powerful people, while Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stayed put at 18th.
Netanyahu’s “positions are unwavering — and with a supportive American president entering office, there will be little reason to bend,” Forbes said. “Though politics remain turbulent in his tiny Middle East country of 8 million people, innovation continues to thrive. Israel is dubbed ‘startup nation’ and boasts the highest number of startups per capita in the world.”
Khamenei, Forbes noted, has “worked to establish Iran as a world player in the nuclear field, and has maintained fierce antipathy towards the United States.”
The top 10 on the Forbes list were as follows: Russian President Vladimir Putin (No. 1 for the fourth year in a row), US President-elect Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Pope Francis, Chairwoman of the US Federal Reserve Janet Yellen, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Google co-founder Larry Page, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Meanwhile, Khamenei on Wednesday — according to the Iranian regime-aligned news agency Tasnim — said that Israel would not exist in 25 years if “the resistance and striving of Palestinian groups” continues.
A recent Politico article about the possible nomination of former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton to a top spot in the incoming Trump administration’s State Department (“Trump’s flirtation with Bolton sends shivers through Senate,” Dec. 14, 2016) painTs the diplomat as a man with radical views. The report, by Nahal Toosi and Madeline Conway, omitted crucial history on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Toosi and Conway wrote:
“Bolton is deeply pro-Israel, so much so that that he’s suggested forgetting the idea of creating a Palestinian state. Instead, he’s argued for placing the Gaza Strip under Egyptian control and handing the West Bank to Jordan.”
Politico implied that this is an unreasonable idea. However, the paper failed to inform their readers that Jordan occupied the West Bank from 1948 until 1967 and Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip from 1948 until 1967. It is also important to note that neither the Gaza Strip nor the West Bank have ever belonged to a Palestinian state, and that the status of these territories remains disputed. The West Bank, historically called Judea and Samaria until Jordan seized the land during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, was part of the initial Palestine Mandate that allowed for the reestablishment of a Jewish state.
The number of terrorist attacks recorded in Israel dropped last month by 38 percent over October nationally — largely thanks to a 72 percent drop in incidents in Jerusalem.
The Shin Bet internal security service recorded a total of 95 attacks in November, with only nine in Jerusalem, compared to 153 attacks in October nationally and 48 in the capital, according to the security agency’s monthly report, which it published on its website earlier this week.
Only one Israeli, a member of the security forces, was wounded in the November attacks — he sustained minor injuries – compared to 23 wounded and two killed during the previous month.
The drop in attacks makes the November tally the second lowest figure recorded since October 2015, when 620 attacks were recorded following a near tripling over the previous month. The lowest figure recorded in any month after that conflagration was in August of this year, with 93 incidents.
In its latest effort to prepare for its next war against Israel, the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has started to surveil Israeli communities and track IDF movements near the Gaza Strip with drones and camera-equipped kites, Ynet reported Thursday.
The IDF, which has noticed that this practice is increasing, sends out soldiers to the border every time Hamas operatives arrive in pickup trucks with their new surveillance tools. The army either shoots the kites down or fires warning shots at the trucks. “The IDF sees these kites as yet another way that Hamas is preparing for the next round of fighting against Israel,” Ynet wrote.
The army believes that if another war breaks out, Hamas will attempt to infiltrate Israel through tunnels or the sea in an effort to capture or kill civilians in nearby towns, a tactic meant to damage Israeli morale. The intelligence gathered with these kites and drones could help the terrorist group with that objective.
In addition to spying on Israel, Hamas is “intensely training their marine Special Forces units, digging tunnels with greater frequency, and improving their rocket arsenal. They are also carrying out more long-range rocket tests into the sea,” Ynet added.
Hamas, a murderous terrorist group responsible for targeting civilians, issued an unprecedented condemnation of the “massacre” that was perpetrated in Aleppo as the Syrian regime emerged victorious from a months-long battle against rebel forces.
Refraining from naming the perpetrators, the Islamic extremist movement called on the Arab people to take action to stop the bloodshed of innocent civilians.
The Iran-financed Islamic Jihad, for its part, also published a condemnation, again without naming names, calling on the “hypocritical” community of nations to get involved.
Despite the clear position of their leadership and the strongest opposition group, some in Gaza, mostly pro-Iranian born-again Shi’ites, celebrated President Bashar Assad’s victory in the key battle.
Hisham Salem, the leader of the Iranian-backed Alsabareen militia, wrote: “Israel and its agents were defeated in Aleppo. Syria and the resistance won. The liberation of Aleppo is a major step towards liberating Palestine, inshallah.”
IS’s motivation to achieve a relatively high-impact WMD operation in Syria, Iraq or beyond, against either military forces or civilian targets, is growing as the group becomes increasingly incapacitated. The possibility of a high-impact chemical, biological or radiological attack still exists and should not be discounted. (Nuclear weaponry, which is unobtainable for IS, is irrelevant within this context.)
Beyond the Middle East, the US and Europe are IS’s main targets. In February 2016, the Director of US National Intelligence warned that IS “would like to use CW” in an attack on America. Also, the Dutch counterterrorism coordinator noted that IS is estimated to have between 60 and 80 operatives planted in Europe to carry out attacks. A similar order of magnitude might be inferred in the US. Whether these operatives are capable of committing acts of WMD sabotage is not clear.
Israel, too, has reason to be concerned about IS attempts at CW attacks. Militants of IS or its affiliates in the Golan Heights (“Shuhada al-Yarmouk”, or the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade) have confronted the IDF very little, but there is unverified – though concrete – information in the Israeli media pointing to the group’s possession of CW. IDF Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eizenkot has mentioned the worrying possibility that various rivals in Syria might employ CW.
Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman has stressed that Israel will act without restraint to prevent the transfer of WMD (and advanced conventional weapon systems) from Syria to Hezbollah. This emphasis is understandable, as any conjunction of Hezbollah with CW is intolerable to Israel. In principle, equipping Hezbollah with CW or BW by Iran – known to be in possession of such arsenals – is no less likely than by Syria.
On Thursday’s Breitbart News Daily, SiriusXM host Alex Marlow asked former UN Ambassador John Bolton about the situation in Aleppo, Syria, where the regime of dictator Bashar Assad has reportedly taken control of the city, with assistance from Russia and Iran.
“Well, I think this is a very significant victory for the Assad regime, Russia, and the ayatollahs in Tehran,” Bolton said. “Many experts on the conflict speculated that Russia and Syria wanted to wrap up the capture of Aleppo before Barack Obama left office because they knew he wasn’t going to do anything about it. There are still a few areas – one, I think, controlled by Kurdish forces, and perhaps a few holdouts – but basically this is a very significant victory for the Assad regime, and it represents real success for the Russian military support that they’ve given.”
“And it’s a further piece of evidence that as America has withdrawn its interest, presence, and influence in the region, the Russians have stepped in to take our place,” he added grimly. “They are emerging, sad to say, for the first time in almost fifty years, once again as a major player in the Middle East. That cannot be good news for America and its allies, like Israel and some of the friendly Arab regimes.”
Bolton said the victory in Aleppo “helps consolidate the position of the Assad regime, making it much more likely – never certain at this point, but much more likely to remain in power.”
The removal of Bashar Assad from power is an Israeli interest and ultimate goal, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday, amid claims that troops loyal to the Syrian president were perpetrating a massacre in Aleppo.
Liberman’s remarks, which constitute an unusual departure from Israel’s policy of nonalignment in Syria, came as he addressed in a Limmud FSU conference on Jewish learning in Eilat.
“Assad is a butcher who has massacred people,” Liberman said. “The State of Israel has said ‘never again,’” he added, quoting a phrase used to reject genocidal policies in the wake of the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its allies against the Jews.
“This massacre, occurring in plain view with chemical weapons, is morally unacceptable,” he said.
But, the defense minister that Assad’s removal was an “ultimate goal” for Israel as opposed to an immediate one.
As bombs continue to fall on Aleppo, Syria’s ravaged metropolis, Israeli newscaster Lucy Aharish switched from Hebrew to English during an evening broadcast of her show on Channel 2 television on Thursday, to direct a damning message at viewers around the world.
“Right now, in Halab, Syria, just an eight-hour drive from Tel Aviv, a genocide is taking place,” said Aharish, Israel’s first Arab news presenter, using the Arabic pronunciation of Aleppo.
“You know what? Let me be more accurate: It is a holocaust. Yes, a holocaust. Maybe we don’t want to hear about it, or deal with it, that in the 21st century, in the age of social media, in a world where information can fit into the palm of your hand, in a world where you can see and hear the victims and their horror stories in real time — in this world we are standing and doing nothing while children are being slaughtered every single hour.”
Aharish named several European countries and the United States, blaming them for “doing nothing” as civilians died. She accused the United Nations of “hypocrisy” for holding meetings and “wiping away a tear when they see the image of a father holding the body of his little daughter.”
A 12-year old German-Iraqi boy suspected of having links to extremist group Islamic State (ISIS) tried to blow up a bomb at a Christmas market in the western town of Ludwigshafen, German magazine Focus reported on Friday, citing security and judicial sources.
The boy, born in the same town in 2004, was “strongly radicalized” and apparently instructed by an unknown ISIS member, Focus reported.
The suspect put down a backpack containing a self-made nail bomb at the Christmas market on Nov. 26, but the device did not go off because the detonator failed, it said.
A market visitor called the police after finding the backpack and specialists defused the device, the report said.
Police identified and arrested the boy, who is now in a youth detention center, the report said, adding that the Federal Public Prosecutor had taken over investigations on the charge of a serious act of violent subversion.
Earlier this week Secretary of State John Kerry called on all sides involved in the war to take steps toward finding a political solution to the mass murder in Syria; that’s when it dawned on Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov: John Kerry has been totally fucking serious this entire time.
In an interview Lavrov told The Mideast Beast: “I mean, come on, how many times can you call for a ceasefire? After the whole chemical weapons red line thing I thought we had gotten lucky, or caught him on a bad day or something, but holy shit…”
Lavrov went into detail about the numerous times that Secretary Kerry, with a totally straight face, had called for ceasefires and political solutions, all the while never making any threats or otherwise giving any incentive for such things, and said “I mean, were doing some real fucked up shit in Aleppo and Lurch over there is calling me insisting on the need for restraint…umm have you met the Russian Army?”
At the time of writing, Syrian regime forces, supported by elements of the Russian military were slaughtering civilians in Aleppo and Secretary Kerry was getting a medal from the French… need we say more?
The government of Iranian President Hassan Rohani has submitted to the Majlis (parliament) a draft budget for the fiscal year March 2017-March 2018 for a total of $99.7 billion equivalent. The budget envisages a growth in expenditure of 13.9 percent over the preceding year, but a sharp increase of 39 percent, or $10.3 billion, in funds earmarked for defense, including a big increase in the budget of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Notwithstanding political, economic and social conflicts between the Rohani government and the IRGC, foreign policy is closely coordinated by the two bodies. Upon reaching power, the Rohani government declared two key priorities: reforming the national economy, and reaching agreement with the West on the nuclear program. The government has shown no objection to the role of the IRGC, a potent military force accountable to the Supreme Leader, in regional politics, and particularly in Syria and Iraq. A branch of the IRGC, the Qods Force Brigade, commanded by Gen. Qasem Soleimani, is responsible for spreading Iran’s subversive and, often, terrorist activities across the Middle East and beyond.
Growth Of Iran’s Defense Budget
Overall, Iran’s defense budget has increased from $6 billion in 2013 during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to $8 billion in 2014, and in access of $10 billion for the next Iranian fiscal year. However, the section of the military budget earmarked for the IRGC has registered a far greater increase than the military budget as a whole. The budget allocation for the Revolutionary Guards was $3.3 billion in 2013, increased to $6 billion in 2015, declined to $4.5 billion in 2016 but increased by 53 percent to $6.9 billion for 2017 which translated into 77 percent of the total defense budget. In fact, under the Rouhani presidency, the total allocations to the military, the IRGC, the Organization for the Mobilization of the Oppressed (Basij), and the General Staff of the Armed Forces all rose to almost 80 percent since mid-2013 when Rohani assumed the presidency.
Spurred by a letter written by Sen. Ted Cruz (R – Texas) to three senior Obama administration officials, investigative journalist Claudia Rosett on Thursday examined the possibility that Iran and North Korea are collaborating on nuclear weapons research in the wake of last year’s nuclear deal.
The most salient question, Rosett wrote in Forbes, is the one Cruz addressed to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: “Has the U.S. intelligence community observed any possible nuclear collaboration between Iran and North Korea…?”
Rosett noted that “any such nuclear teamwork between Tehran and rogue, nuclear-testing Pyongyang, that would be a violation by Iran” of the nuclear deal, which was implemented this past January.
She explained that the two nations have a history of collaborating on weapons development. Usually, North Korea undertakes much of the development while Iran that foots the bill, with technicians traveling back and forth between the countries.
By July, Russia was working with Iran on practical matters related to Tehran’s end of the bargain. Moscow was helping to convert the hardened, underground enrichment facility at Fordow into a production facility for medical isotopes and preparing to receive Iranian shipments of low-enriched uranium. The White House also feared in July that congressional Republicans could make life difficult for the White House by blocking the Energy Department from purchasing Iranian heavy water, thereby forcing Iran to offer the profitable opportunity to Moscow.
The Russian-Iranian nexus extends to the Syrian conflict, too. Barack Obama informed the nation in a prime-time address on September 10, 2013, that Russia had been invited to mediate the conflict in Syria, oversee the removal of Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles, and prevent Western intervention in the civil war. What a deal. In the end, Assad maintained and still uses his chemical stockpiles, and Western military action in Syria was merely postponed. Routinely, Secretary of State John Kerry leaned on Moscow to negotiate ceasefires in the conflict only to watch Russia facilitate their violation or violate them directly. The last and most hopeful of these was dashed in September after Russian warplanes destroyed a United Nations aid convoy bound for the besieged city of Aleppo.
In the absence of the Iran deal, this would have rendered Russia a pariah state. As European Council on Foreign Relations analysts Ellie Geranmayeh and Kadri Liik note, Russia’s only meaningful means of engaging with the global diplomatic community after its seizure of Crimea was over the nuclear accords. From the “reset” just months after the invasion of Georgia to the DNC hacks, Moscow has leveraged Obama’s reliance on Russia’s role in the Iran nuclear accords to escape isolation.
Democrats are right to be incensed over Russia’s brazen and intervention in American politics. Their anger is, in part, directionless because their partisan instincts require them to misdirect their ire. The Obama administration’s misguided efforts to reshape the strategic balance in the Middle East is responsible for its current undeserved status as geopolitical kingmaker.
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