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Dissecting President Obama’s U.N. speech

September 26, 2010 1 comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — His was an odd speech for a President. He stood before the world and trashed the United States. “The blocks and neighborhoods of this great city tell the story of a difficult decade,” he said of New York, beginning with the attack on the World Trade Center and through the economic collapse that “devastated American families on Main Street.” And he worried that, “Underneath these challenges to our security and prosperity lie deeper fears: that ancient hatreds and religious divides are once again ascendant; that a world which has grown more interconnected has somehow slipped beyond our control.”

America has had a bad decade. We’re devastated. We may turn to ancient hatreds. The world is beyond our control. Is that what Barack Obama thinks of us?

We expected the president of Iran to start his speech with, “President Obama admits his country is on the skids.” He did. “The system of capitalism and the existing world order has proved to be unable to provide appropriate solution to the problems of societies, thus coming to an end.” He noted the horrors of Western colonialism and two World Wars. His take on the September 11th bombings it that there are three theories – all of which implicate the government of the United States.

Read more…

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U.S. has turned 180 degrees in its Israel policy

September 17, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –On the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War and the yartzeit this month of more than 2,500 Israel soldiers who gave their lives in a war for the very survival of the State and the protection of their homes and families, the United States has nearly completed the turn of its policy.                                                                    
 
The objective of American diplomacy used to be to ensure that Israel received the recognition of the Arab States that it was due as a member of the United Nations. That recognition was to have resulted in the “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force,” that Israel is due under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 242. The American position was that as long as the Arab States threatened the security of Israel, we would provide the means for Israel’s defense.  
 
Now the goal of American policy is the establishment of a Palestinian State – or at least a rump state on the West Bank (Gaza is ignored). Now the Administration views Israel as the bigger, stronger country able to provide inducements to the smaller, weaker Palestinian Authority.  And if it doesn’t…
 
Israel’s security requirements are sometimes mentioned in the context of relations between Palestinians and Israelis, but the threat to Israel still posed by states in the region is off the table. The threat of Syria; of Iran – where there is evidence that the Administration is considering talking with the Mullahs about Afghanistan, even as Iran offers rewards for the killing of American soldiers; of the submission of the Lebanese government to Syria, Hezbollah and Iran; of weakness in Jordan and Egypt; of the continuing unwillingness of key Arab states to recognize Israel; of a $60 BILLION arms sale to Saudi Arabia; of Hamas firing white phosphorous shells from Gaza into Israel… what? Read more…

Everyone’s offended, but watch and be angry and proud

September 14, 2010 Leave a comment
By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –After the 9-11 ceremonies, commentaries and protests, it hardly seems necessary to suggest it – everyone is already angry, right? 

 
No, everyone is offended: offended by plans for “Cordoba House,” a mosque within the World Trade Center damage zone; offended by how offended mosque supporters are with what they think is the offense taken by the rest of us; offended about where the money will come from; offended by being asked where the money will come from; offended to be asked to prove you’re an American; offended by being called Islamophobic; offended by Democrats; offended by Republicans.

(Mayor Bloomberg and the President, among others, might have said that at some point, rather than denigrating people whose views differ with theirs.) But reasoned anger is an appropriate response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 and to the unfolding of our national life thereafter.

One of the mysteries of American life is the disappearance of the images of 9-11. We, who sat glued to our TV screens for countless hours that day, remember them – the planes, the fire, people crowded by the windows of the upper floors and the single man appearing to float on his way down a hundred stories. The crushed police cars and fire trucks – the wreckage of the protectors. The Statue of Liberty lifting her lamp to the disaster. The satellite photo that captured the smoke. The crumbling of edifices that helped to define America for Americans and for the world – the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The crumbling of our innocence. Read more…

Israel makes gains in unexpected places

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The “delegitimization” of Israel is not to be taken lightly – professional agitators make the case that while Israel may have some theoretical “right to exist,” nothing that Israel does to protect itself, advance itself or enhance itself is legitimate. 

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) long ago rejected begging the Arabs to give Israel what no other country requires – permission.  Israel is legitimate by its history, the circumstances of its birth as a modern country and its defense of its territory and people. But, while the problem is real, two incidents remind us that there are circles and cycles to international affairs as there are to everything else; one made us smile.
 
1. Fidel Castro’s comments to Jonah Goldberg of Atlantic Monthly have now been widely circulated. Castro criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and talked about the “unique” history of anti-Semitism. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything… The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”
 
Castro is an old dictator and a liar – and he’s already recanted his comments on Cuban economics. But, in fact, in the early days he was far from an enemy of Israel or Jews. In the journal Cuban Studies 23 (University of Pittsburgh press), Jorge Perez-Lopez relates that Jews who left Cuba for Israel in 1961 were called “repatriados” (people returning to their native lands) although, he notes, most were of Eastern European origin. Other Cubans fleeing the revolution were called “gusanos” (anti-revolutionary worms). Israeli agricultural workers were common in Cuba and when Israeli president Yitzhak Ben Zvi died in 1963, Castro declared three days of official mourning. Algerian dictator Ahmed Ben Bella subsequently canceled his trip to Havana. Castro said he didn’t care.
 
Only in 1974, when seeking leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement did Castro break relations with Israel. Which itself is a reminder that “delegitimization” is an old art form: after the Yom Kippur War, 29 African states severed diplomatic relations with Israel under severe pressure from the Arab states. And only two brave countries – Costa Rica and El Salvador – maintain embassies in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Israel is the only country the United States considers unable to determine its own capital.

2. Click here to watch “Red Square Moscow with IDF Band” Large screens behind the band show band members, the Israeli flag and – hold on here – the Knesset, the Western Wall and broad views of Jerusalem. The band chose Fiddler on the Roof, Machar (“Tomorrow”) a modern Israeli favorite, “Hava Nagila” and “Shalom Aleichem” (with which the Russians were clearly familiar).

The faces of the Israeli soldiers are extraordinary – they understand the moment. For those of us old enough to have grandfathers who fled Russia to escape the Czar’s Army, not to mention “duck and cover” in school in fear of the Soviets, watching a large and enthusiastic Russian audience clap in time to the IDF Band on Red Square with the Kremlin lit up in the background is eye-popping.
 
Coincidentally (?), Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in Russia last week to sign a military cooperation agreement, declaring Israel “ready to continue sharing experience with the Russian military on fighting terrorism and ensuring security, including by using air drones.” The Russian Defense Minister said Moscow was “studying seriously and attentively” the experiences and practices of the IDF. Barak met with Vladimir Putin as well to discuss proposed Russian arms sales to Syria.

It doesn’t make us at all comfortable to watch Israel and Russia cooperate at what surely will be the expense of Georgia. And it doesn’t let Castro off the hook for policies that have made Cuba one of the poorest and most repressive places in our hemisphere – and we are not overlooking the Cuban government’s treatment of Alan Gross, a Jewish American imprisoned while on a humanitarian mission.

But there are things we thought we would never see. The IDF Band being cheered in Red Square is one.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

What a fly on the wall might have heard during Mideast talks

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C.– The current Washington “peace talks” have less chance of producing either a Palestinian state or legitimacy and security for Israel than even their previous editions. 

Mahmoud Abbas isn’t Arafat.  

Hamas rules Gaza with an iron fist with political support from Turkey and weapons from Iran.  Hamas and Iran are willing to mix Sunni and Shiite fundamentalist orthodoxies in the name of their greater enemies – Israel and Fatah. Turkey is stirring the pot.

The Arab states are not interested in Palestine and want Israel to do something about their priority – Iran. 

Egypt’s ailing President Hosni Mubarak did not drag himself to Washington on behalf of a Palestinian state, but on behalf of his son Gamal.

King Abdullah’s already minority position in his kingdom shrinks daily and there are calls to oust Palestinians lest they build a mini-State in Jordan as they did in Lebanon. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu isn’t Prime Minister Barak.

Senator Mitchell said there is a “window of opportunity” now.  With due respect, it is not a window but trompe l’oeil – the French decorating trick that “fools the eye” by drawing outdoor scenery on solid walls. Which is not to say nothing interesting is happening.
 
Prime Minister Netanyahu spent an hour-and-a-half in private with Mahmoud Abbas yesterday. A fly on the wall might have heard the following:
 
Abbas: Don’t leave me. An Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank will have Hamas taking over within weeks – or less. They threw my troops out of Gaza, they’re torturing and murdering Fatah supporters and shutting down Internet cafes. Hamas killed four of your people this week on the West Bank; they don’t like my people any better.
 
Netanyahu: Five; they killed five. One of the women was nine months pregnant. You might have noticed that we removed 140 roadblocks and eight central checkpoints in 2008 and another 27 checkpoints and 140 roadblocks in 2009 – because you keep whining about them. Do you think that had anything to do with missing those Hamas guys? In the meantime, could you stop telling your children that we put Palestinian children in ovens and we killed Mickey Mouse?
 
Abbas: That was Hamas.
 
Netanyahu: OK, whatever. You built the museum glorifying the Sbarro pizzeria bombing. Israel is a legitimate, sovereign, Jewish country. Get over it.
 
Abbas: Will you stop harping on that “legitimacy” thing? I’ve got the same problem with Hamas – they don’t think I’m any more legitimate than you are. If I give up a major card – your legitimacy, your Jewishness, your rights, your borders – Hamas will make me a laughingstock with my own people; a dead laughingstock.
 
Netanyahu: You keep calling them “your people.” You didn’t have an election in 2009 because you were afraid you would lose. We call a person who rules without a mandate a dictator. Who are your people and how do you know? 
 
Abbas: I know this – I’m the one on the hot seat and you don’t want what comes after me. I also know that I used to be able to find some space between the Americans and Hamas so I could call myself a moderate between the extreme pro- and anti-Israel factions. That’s how I stayed alive. But with President Obama demanding a “total” settlement freeze and that I declare an independent state in less than two years, I’m being squeezed between two radicals.    
 
Netanyahu: We agree. And don’t worry – I’m not leaving you and your American-trained army without Israeli supervision.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

Iran: the elephant in Iraq’s living room

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –President Obama’s speech on the end of combat operations in Iraq was a strange muddle of domestic policy, blaming our recession on borrowing for the war (although according to the Congressional Budget Office, seven years of the Iraq war cost less than one year of the Obama Administration’s stimulus package) and equating the end of combat operations with providing the resources to turn our attention to economic recovery (as if we couldn’t attend to the economy until we “finished” the war, which isn’t finished in any event).
 
But the real wonder is how it was possible for the President of the United States to give a whole speech about Iraq without mentioning Iran. While the United States is “turning the page” and leaving Iraq to the Iraqis, the Iranians are heavily invested in the violence that continues to plague the country. While the President lauds the Iraqis for their courage and their choice to engage in politics (well deserved praise), the shooting war continues, funded and abetted by Iran. President Obama acknowledged:

“Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders.”

The Iraqis might have no interest in “endless destruction,” but Iran has no interest in an independent, democratic, pro-Western Iraq. The Iraqis may be able to “resolve their differences and police their streets,” but with Iran continuing to fund unreconciled militias, what hope has the Iraqi police/military of getting ahead of the mullahs? “Only Iraqis can build a democracy,” but can they build it under military attack from their neighbor Iran?
 
The President referred to “extremists,” but those extremists have a patron. Iran. And if Iran is the elephant in Iraq, it is the elephant in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and surrounding Israel as well.
 
The issue of American arms for a Lebanese armed force that shares with Iran’s agent Hezbollah has been discussed in prior JINSA Reports. The recent announcement of a Syria-Hezbollah military cooperation agreement, alongside the increased Syrian role in the Lebanese body politic, brings Iran right into Lebanon, north of Israel. 
 
Iran is the elephant in the Israel-Palestinian “peace” talks. Iran provides funds and ideological support to Hamas, while Hamas and Fatah are engaged in a civil war that has moved from Gaza (where Fatah supporters have been pushed underground by brutal attacks) to the West Bank, where Hamas supporters are increasingly visible – including in yesterday’s murder of four Israelis. It should be impossible for the Administration to propose a “two state solution” while the Hamas government wages war on both Israel and Fatah.
 
In each case, violence is treated as disembodied and unsupported. But in fact, in each case, trying to deal only with the closest manifestation of the violence – Israel’s Security Fence; the Iraqi army and police trying to disband militias; UNIFIL in Lebanon; the Israel-Egypt embargo of Gaza; or missile defenses against Hezbollah, Hamas or Iran – ignores the relative ease with which Iran is able to resupply and rearm its protégés.
 
Without an understanding of where the elephant is, and how to tame it or remove it, what success the United States has had in Iraq is likely to be short-lived. That failure will make a mockery of the sacrifices of both Americans and Iraqis in pursuit of consensual government for the Iraqi people.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

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The Obama Administration miscalculates in Lebanon

August 30, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C–When Congress withheld U.S. military assistance to the Beirut government after Lebanese Army Forces (LAF) fired into Israel, Iran announced that it would pick up the slack. Tehran already supplies Hezbollah through Syria – a process improved, according to European sources, by a new Iranian agreement with Turkey not to block Hezbollah-bound shipments through its territory. Iran would thus become a supplier to both the Lebanese government and the Lebanese government-approved Hezbollah militia. One of those is considered by the U.S. government to be a terrorist organization. 
 
But such is the fear of Iran in the Obama Administration that State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters never mind what Congress says. “I think that the statements by Iran are expressly the reason why we believe that continuing support to the Lebanese government and the Lebanese military is in our interest…Hezbollah is a fact within Lebanese society and much of our effort in supporting the Lebanese military is in fact the very professionalization that we think helps mitigate that risk.”
 
Crowley appears to be saying U.S. aid to the LAF will enable Lebanon to work against Hezbollah and Iran, and withholding aid would “force” Lebanon to turn to its “enemy” Iran.  Evidence, please, because we find Lebanon to be acting out of weakness or affinity as an ally of Iran right now – in spite of our aid or because of it. There is no Lebanese effort to close the Syria-Lebanon border by which Iran provides increasingly sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah. There is increasing evidence that the LAF warns Hezbollah of UNIFIL activity and shares intelligence and weapons. There was even a report by a generally reliable source that Iranian intelligence and commando operatives visited southern Lebanon in August in the company of the LAF.
 
It is simply an American illusion that when Lebanon (or the Palestinian Authority, for that matter) takes American aid, it accepts American conditions. Crowley said, “We place conditions…and there are similar conditions in terms of how Israel is able to use the assistance we provide them… Nothing that we do is condition-free.” Really?
 
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr announced that Lebanon would accept no conditions on U.S. military aid that precluded its use against Israel, adding gratuitously or honestly that the LAF soldier who opened fire on the IDF was acting on orders. The Palestinians have similarly asserted that they will use their American military training as they wish, and we believe them.
 
Our greatest concern is that it appears to take only the threat of Tehran to make American officials jump to prop up what it hopes/wishes was a friend, throwing rational assessment to the wind. 
 
The government in Beirut is not a single entity and not an independent one. Hezbollah sits in the Cabinet as well as in the south with its private army. Syria, once ousted by Lebanese democrats who believed in the Bush freedom revolution, is back now – and Syria is being courted assiduously by the Obama Administration even as it solidifies its ties to Tehran and an increasingly Islamist Ankara. We’re sorry for the Lebanese, but we have little hope that its future will be independent, multicultural and/or pro-Western. 
 
The Obama Administration would do well not to supply it – or the Palestinians – with the ability to hurt our real friend and ally, Israel, just because Tehran blusters.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.