Sunday, June 16, 2019

Yes Prime Minister On the Arabs and Israel

Nothing much has changed in 30 years. The USSR is no more, but British policy towards Israel remains as it used be. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Bret Stephens: If Iran won’t change its behavior, we should sink its navy.


The Pirates of Tehran

If Iran won’t change its behavior, we should sink its navy.

June 14, 2019

On April 14, 1988, the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts, a frigate, hit an Iranian naval mine while sailing in the Persian Gulf. The explosion injured 10 of her crew and nearly sank the ship. Four days later, the U.S. Navy destroyed half the Iranian fleet in a matter of hours. Iran did not molest the Navy or international shipping for many years thereafter.

Now that’s changed. Iran’s piratical regime is back yet again to its piratical ways.

Or so it seems, based on a detailed timeline of Thursday’s attackson two tankers in the Gulf of Oman provided by the U.S. Central Command, including a surveillance video of one of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps patrol boats removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of one of the damaged tankers.

The Iranians categorically deny responsibility. And the Trump administration has credibility issues, to put it mildly, which is one reason why electing a compulsive prevaricator to the presidency is dangerous to national security.

In this case, however, the evidence against Iran is compelling. CentCom’s account notes that “a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair,” one of the damaged tankers. The Iranian boats are familiar to the U.S. Navy after decades of observing them at close range. And staging deniable attacks that fall just below the threshold of open warfare on the U.S. is an Iranian specialty.

Trump might be a liar, but the U.S. military isn’t. There are lingering questions about the types of munitions that hit the ships, and time should be given for a thorough investigation. But it would require a large dose of self-deception (or conspiracy theorizing) to pretend that Iran isn’t the likely culprit, or that its actions don’t represent a major escalation in the region.

That raises two questions, one minor, the other much more consequential.

The minor question is why the Iranians did it. There has been a pattern of heightened Iranian aggression for nearly two months, including highly sophisticated attacks on four oil tankers near the Emirati port of Fujairah on May 12.

This might be seen as a response to the resumption of major U.S. sanctions, which have had a punishing effect on Iran’s economy. Except that Tehran did nothing to moderate its behavior after the nuclear deal was signed, and most sanctions were lifted, in 2016.

It might also be seen as an effort by regime hard-liners to sabotage the possibility of a resumption of nuclear negotiations. It’s hard to believe it was just a coincidence that the attacks on the ships, one of which was Japanese, coincided with the visit to Tehran by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. Then again, the I.R.G.C. was a major economic beneficiary of the nuclear deal, so it’s not exactly clear why it would want to stop a new one.

The most likely explanation was offered by Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who suggested that Iran’s purpose was “to demonstrate that Trump is a Twitter Tiger.”

It’s not a bad guess. The Iranians know that vainglory and timidity often go hand in hand.

Trump went from apocalyptic to smitten with Kim Jong-un in a matter of weeks after concluding that the risks of a confrontation with North Korea just weren’t worth it. He’s delivered similar mixed messages toward Tehran. Driving a crisis in the Middle East so that the U.S. president can “solve” it with a fresh nuclear deal on even easier terms than Obama’s would be a canny Iranian gambit.

Which brings us to the consequential question: What’s the proper U.S. response?

It can’t be the usual Trumpian cycle of bluster and concession. Neither can it be the liberal counsel of feckless condemnation followed by inaction. Firing on unarmed ships in international waters is a direct assault on the rules-based international order in which liberals claim to believe. To allow it to go unpunished isn’t an option.

What is appropriate is a new set of rules — with swift consequences if Iran chooses to break them. The Trump administration ought to declare new rules of engagement to allow the Navy to engage and destroy Iranian ships or fast boats that harass or threaten any ship, military or commercial, operating in international waters. If Tehran fails to comply, the U.S. should threaten to sink any Iranian naval ship that leaves port.

If after that Iran still fails to comply, we would be right to sink its navy, in port or at sea. The world cannot tolerate freelance Somali pirates. Much less should it tolerate a pirate state seeking to hold the global economy hostage through multiplying acts of economic terrorism.

Nobody wants a war with Iran. But not wanting a war does not mean remaining supine in the face of its outrages. We sank Iran’s navy before. Tehran should be put on notice that we are prepared and able to do it again.

Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. @BretStephensNYT 


My comment:    

I do not think that Trump's terms would be "even easier terms than Obama’s "  On the contrary.

Douglas Murray at his best - Israel & Nuclear Iran

The proposition being put before you tonight is that you have a choice between war and an Iran with the bomb.  You have a choice as has been said before, between war and dishonor – you will choose dishonor this evening and you will get war.  You have a choice between a war with a nuclear Iran, or a war at some point, with an Iran that is not nuclear which you stop from ever being nuclear, and hope that in stopping that regime  in embedding itself, you will give the Iranian people the best chance of overthrowing that regime. But as I say, thank God this does not rely on you or any Europeans. Because you’ve made the same mistake before and nobody should trust you to get it right this time.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A deterrent strategy is aimed at a rational enemy

Albert Wohlstetter

The central issue: nuclear Iran

In “2019 is becoming Israel’s ‘lost year’” (May 31), Yaakov Katz writes: “There was no talk about the issues that Israelis really care about – social equality, matters of religion and state, the lack of civil marriage, education, health and more.” 

There was also no talk about the Iranian nuclear threat. Why do Israelis refuse to talk about the only topic the resolution of which is the precondition for all others to have meaning since matters of religion and state, the lack of civil marriage, education and health would be pointless in a rubble after an Iranian nuclear attack?

Are Israelis in collective denial? Netanyahu’s legal troubles or not, we all seem to forget what Albert Wohlstetter wrote in his 1958 paper “The Delicate Balance of Terror” – “A deterrent strategy is aimed at a rational enemy.”


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security: No Illusions, No Despair

A new national security plan says avoid risky diplomatic escapades and prepare for war.

At a much darker hour in Jewish history, prior to the UN vote in 1947, David Ben-Gurion said: “We hold no illusions, but do not despair. For us Jews, and particularly Zionists, two things are forbidden: easy optimism and sterile pessimism.”

That dictum, “no illusions, no despair,” is the headline of a national security policy plan for Israel’s new government that will be released next week by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS).

At the basis of the plan’s 14 concrete policy recommendations is the assumption that Israel must be ready for war on three fronts against an Iranian-led coalition. This means preventing the emergence of an Iranian war machine in Syria and Iranian long-range missile bases in Iraq; presenting a credible capacity to strike Iranian nuclear targets and the ability to withstand an intense missile war; and preparing ground forces capable of swift maneuvers and attaining decisive outcomes (“mowing the grass”) in the two Palestinian arenas.

All this will test the cohesion of Israeli society, the strength of the IDF, and Israel’s diplomatic agility. Therefore, say JISS fellows, the new government must nurture a spirit of unity and national purpose by building a policy consensus as broad as possible.

Among other things, this means avoiding risky diplomatic escapades like unilateral withdrawals from parts of the West Bank, withdrawals that would unnecessarily and unjustifiably tear the country apart while feeding unrealistic Palestinian expectations – without any real diplomatic reward for Israel.

“Indefinitely managing the conflict with the Palestinians is not a cowardly choice by hapless political and military leaders, but a rational choice,” write the JISS fellows. “Especially when the Iranian challenge looms larger than ever on Israel’s horizons.”

To this I add: Judicious conflict management requires a steady hand at the helm of state, and self-confidence in the justice of Israel’s long-term interests. Most of all, it requires patience.

As for the extension of Israeli law to settlements in Judea and Samaria, here too the JISS plan urges restraint. “No action should be taken until the Trump administration peace initiative has been exhausted; and even then, Israeli moves should adhere to the contours of broad national consensus” (meaning the settlement blocs, the Jordan Valley and other key strategic areas).

The big exception to this rule is Jerusalem. Israel’s national security requires control over Jerusalem and its very broad environs. Reinforcing Jerusalem should be a high priority, with the government acting to bolster the Zionist majority in the city by massive building in the E-1 quadrant (despite Palestinian and European objections) and linking the city to Ma’aleh Adumim and eventually to the Jordan Valley.

The plan also recommends that Arab parts of the city be governed more firmly and fairly. This means that resolute action needs to be taken against radical elements who seek to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, and against foreign elements (like Turkey and the European Union) who undermine Israel’s sovereignty in the Jewish people’s historical capital. At the same time, the government should encourage greater integration of eastern Jerusalem Arabs in Israeli life through investment in infrastructure and education.

JISS FELLOWS say that Israel should welcome the so-called “Deal of the Century” about to be unveiled by Washington and agree to negotiate on its basis. The reason for this is simple: Hopefully, the Trump plan will upend stale “common wisdom” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and offer more realistic contours. (This is often termed EKP – the “Everybody Knows Paradigm” for Israeli-Palestinian peace, something like the “Clinton Parameters.”) In any case, Israel must be ready for a security deterioration if, as expected, Palestinian leadership rejects the American initiative.

Other diplomatic and defense recommendations in the JISS plan are to prioritize relations with Egypt and Jordan while seeking new partnerships in the Arab world; exact a price for Erdogan’s provocations and bolster alliances in the eastern Mediterranean; preserve bipartisan support for Israel in the US; maintain active dialogue and deconfliction channels with Russia; act boldly to find European anchors to negate hostile attitudes in Brussels; tread carefully amidst rising tensions in Asia; and enhance Israel’s diplomatic toolbox.

The latter point bears elaboration. JISS fellows give very high marks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for greatly expanding Israel’s global diplomatic standing, including enhanced ties with Russia, China, India, Eastern European countries and African and South American countries. But capitalizing on Israel’s opportunities in the international arena requires a strengthening of the professional Israeli foreign service.

This should include appointment of a full-time foreign minister; a return to the Foreign Ministry of professional units dispersed among other ministries; the allocation of additional budgets for diplomacy; the enhancement of MASHAV (Israel’s foreign aid agency) and the integration of Israeli (and Jewish) NGOs in aid projects overseas; and training cadres of professionals who can communicate with an increasingly attentive audience in the Arabic-speaking world.

The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security was established in 2017 to express a realist strategic worldview. It promotes the Jewish people’s historical connection to the Land of Israel “as a central component of security and national identity,” and advances “pragmatic policies that keep Israel strong and will lead to stable diplomatic arrangements in the long term.”

Among its leaders are Prof. Efraim Inbar, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror (the Anne and Greg Rosshandler Senior Fellow), Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yair Golan, Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, Mrs. Micky Aharonson, Dr. David Koren, Dr. Joshua Krasna, Dr. Yossi Mansharof, Dr. Emmanuel Navon, Dr. Uzi Rubin, Dr. Jonathan Spyer, myself and others.

My sense is that the Israeli public has long hankered for expert analysis that would validate its healthy conservative instincts in matters of war and peace. The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security is the answer to this need. Thus, it is not surprising that the key word in the JISS national security plan is “caution.”

Israel is a strong country and its strategic position is better than ever. Nevertheless, it still faces significant security challenges, primarily from the Iranian regime and its proxies, alongside a violent and intractable conflict with the Palestinians. Therefore, the IDF must be geared for war. This is the ultimate test for Israeli society, too.

The writer is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, His personal site is


My comment:

I am not sure if I fully agree with “JISS FELLOWS say that Israel should welcome the so-called “Deal of the Century” ”    As I wrote from my mamad three weeks ago, while I could hear the booms of the exploding scuds:

“So the real question is how does the Trump Peace Plan deal with the fact that the followers of Islamic ideology would always try to impose their Shari’a law on everyone else?”

I would wait for the “Deal of the Century” to be unveiled first.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Shadow Strike

The right book to read vis-à-vis US-Iran tension

Shadow Strike is immensely readable and although much of the info had percolated down to the general public during these last 12 years, it well describes the politics of the Bush administration’s reluctance to bomb the reactor themselves.

It shows how ignorant some members of the Bush administration were about Israel’s predicament and that is especially true of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Vice President Dick Cheney seems to have been the most supportive of Israel, but he could not convince President Bush to attack the reactor himself.  John Bolton comes out as the only one who sensed that Syria was interested in nuclear weapons. We should remind everyone how wrong Joe Biden had been in attacking Bolton on this issue.   

The book also demonstrates how obsessed both the American and Israeli side were with the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process – the desire to construct the political perpetuum mobile  without them first doing their homework on Islam as both a religion and an ideology. Not that much has changed in this regard since.

I detect a certain positive bias towards the main protagonists Olmert, Barak, Peretz, Livni, Dagan, Ashkenazi, Yadlin and Halevy while the gibe is against Netanyahu for having two weeks after the strike congratulated Olmert on the successful strike and disclosed that Israel had done it.  In addition, Katz seems to take Meir Dagan and Gabi Ashkenazi’s side when they blocked Netanyahu and Barak’s order of placing the IDF on high alert and ready for the imminent attack on Iranian nuclear sites, a decision the consequences of which are still felt today with Secretary of State Pompeo cancelling his visit to Greenland and the cover of The Economist showing a photo of USS Abraham Lincoln and the headline “Collision course”

I learned about the balagan Israel is capable of.  

“On the plane [from Pyongyang], Halevy was surprised to run into Eytan Bentsur, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry who had just wrapped his own visit to Pyongyang for talks with the North Koreans  on a similar topic .

It was a classic case of uncoordinated Israeli bureaucracy”

And what about Iran?

Yaakov Katz writes: “The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, for example, has a significant nuclear arsenal but Israel does not consider the possibility of launching an attack there. Why?

Meridor, one of the participants in the fateful 2010 Security Cabinet meeting, told me that for Israel to consider preemptive action against another country’s nuclear program, two criteria have to be met: the country has to be one of Israel’s enemies  and also have the potential to one day consider using a nuclear weapon against it . Syria fit both. Pakistan does not.”

Iran fits both too. Perhaps Meridor should be reminded what Bernard Lewis said:

 “In this context, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, namely M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction), would have no meaning.  At the End of Time, there will be general destruction anyway.  What will matter is the final destination of the dead-- hell for the infidels, and the delights of heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement...”

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Collision course - MAD as Albert Wohlstetter put it in 1958

Secretary of State Pompeo cancelled his visit to Greenland and the cover of The Economist says Collision course. Time to reread Albert Wohlstetter: The Delicate Balance of Terror


"On the whole, I think the burden of the criticism of deterrence has been the inadequacy of a thermonuclear capability and frequently of, what is not really deterrence at all, the threat to strike first. But it would be a fatal mistake to confuse the inadequacy of strategic deterrence with its dispensability. Deterrence is not dispensable. If the picture of the world I have drawn is rather bleak, it could nonetheless be cataclysmically worse. Suppose both the United States and the Soviet Union had the power to destroy each others' retaliatory forces and society, given the opportunity to administer the opening blow. In this case, the situation would be something like the old-fashioned Western gun duel. It would be extraordinarily risky for one side not to attempt to destroy the other, or to delay doing so. Not only can it emerge unscathed by striking first; this is the only way it can have a reasonable hope of emerging at all. Such a situation is clearly extremely unstable. On the other hand, if it is clear that the aggressor too will suffer catastrophic damage in the event of his aggression, he then has strong reason not to attack, even though he can administer great damage. A protected retaliatory capability has a stabilizing influence not only in deterring rational attack, but also in offering every inducement to both powers to reduce the chance of accidental detonation of war. Our own interest in "fail-safe" responses for our retaliatory forces illustrates this. A protected power to strike back does not come automatically, but it can hardly be stressed too much that it is worth the effort."

"A deterrent strategy is aimed at a rational enemy."