It had been my intention to begin this posting with a focus on Iran. And I will, indeed, get to it in short order. But another issue has made the press: It rankles, and it is elucidating. I want to deal with it first.
From different sources, we have in recent days been given portions of an interview of former president Donald Trump done by Israeli journalist Barak Ravid for his book, “Trump’s Peace.”
Trump’s words shed a great deal of light on his thinking, and on the positions of former prime minister Netanyahu. It is the latter that is more important – as Netanyahu is not gone from the political scene.
What we see about Trump – not exactly a surprise – is that he handles politics from a personal perspective, and that he is transactional, not an ideologue at all. He is a businessman; he does deals.
Trump speaks with anger about the fact that Netanyahu was quick to congratulate Biden after the election, even though it was not an honest election. He expects loyalty, he says. He had done so much for Israel, Netanyahu should have held off on congratulating Biden. He uses an expletive in referring to Netanyahu, and reports, “I haven’t spoken to him since.”
This is a childish attitude. One can only imagine Netanyahu’s grievous disappointment at seeing Biden – former vice president of Obama, whom he loathed – come into the White House. Damn, he probably said, this is who I’m doing to have to deal with now. I’d better start off on the right foot. The congratulations would certainly have been calculated for Israel’s benefit. No credit to Trump that he could not perceive this.
Far more significant, however, is what Trump reported about his plan for “peace.” Each president prior to Trump in recent times had taken a stab at resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, without success. Trump, however, was certain that he could succeed, utilizing a transactional approach. It is all very clear with this interview: He gave Israel a good deal: recognition of Jerusalem undivided as our capital; placement of the US Embassy in Jerusalem; recognition of the Golan as Israel’s; etc. However, this was not done out of conviction that Israel has a right to these accommodations, but with the expectation that In return Netanyahu would sign on to his “Peace to Prosperity” deal and make him a hero.
Trump’s team, after considerable effort, unveiled a map (incomplete in its particulars) of Judaea & Samaria, indicating what areas would be part of Israel, and what part of a yet-to-be-established Palestinian state. David Friedman, who was then US ambassador to Israel (and is a friend, ideologically), indicated there would be no delay, Israel could start applying sovereignty to these areas immediately.
Surely Friedman must have felt thrown off balance when a different message came from Washington: No so fast. I remember the confusion here in Israel because we were receiving mixed messages.
Then the Yesha Council and other right wing elements, after studying the map, opposed it, saying it isolated Jewish areas in enclaves surrounded by Arabs, creating a dangerous and untenable situation.
In the end, nothing came of it. And we have here Trump’s bitter description of what transpired as Netanyahu failed to deliver on his “I scratched your back, now you scratch mine” deal.
Ravid posed a question about what happened when Netanyahu began to talk about applying sovereignty to parts of Judaea and Samaria. (This is my phraseology – Ravid spoke about annexing parts of the West Bank.) Trump responded (emphasis added):
“I was angry and stopped it because it had already gone too far when he did the ‘Let’s annex everything and build on it,’ and we were not happy about that.”
This is very important information regarding Netanyahu’s intentions. – as well as Trump’s. And there is more: Ravid asked Trump about his having asked Netanyahu to freeze settlement development for a year or two. Trump’s response is that “He really was not happy about that.”
And then, said Trump: “Bibi did not want to make a deal…everything was always great, but he didn’t really want to make a deal…I don’t think Bibi was ever going to sign a deal.”
Important to know that even with all that Trump had done, and his friendship with Trump, Netanyahu would not agree to sign on to a “two-state” deal.
In the course of the interview, Trump also offered a shocking assessment of Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority:
“I thought he wanted to make a deal more than Netanyahu. And to be frank, I had a great meeting with him, with Abbas, yes? We spent a lot of time together, talked about a lot of things, and he was almost like a father. He was so nice, he could not have been nicer.”
It seems Trump had no clue about the realities here. I had imagined he knew better. Apparently he didn’t realize (or chose not to perceive) who the terrorist Abbas was (so nice??), or that he would never, ever have signed on to a deal that recognized a Jewish state and called for end of conflict.
In the end, release of this interview serves Netanyahu well politically. Likud members and Netanyahu supporters more generally are celebrating because Trump has put Netanyahu in a good place, especially with right wing voters who of late have viewed him with some suspicion.
Trump mishandled attempts to achieve a Palestinian Arab-Israeli peace agreement, but he was involved in forging the Abraham Accords. Apparently he moved ahead on this as an alternative to that “two-state solution,” which was not going to materialize. In the end the Accords have been a great boon to Israel.
As Dr. Ahmed Charai, a Moroccan publisher and a member of the global board of advisers of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, tells us:
“While Americans were traveling for Thanksgiving, Defense Minister Benny Gantz arrived in Rabat to sign unprecedented security and intelligence agreements between the Jewish state and the Atlantic Arab state.
“Little more than a year ago, such an official visit, let alone the signing of mutual cooperation agreements, would have been unthinkable. This past week, the Moroccan press largely covered it as an important event.
“It is the latest in some 20 agreements signed between Israel and Morocco….
“Many Arabs in Iraq, Syria, and Libya courageously, without fear or hesitation, now say that they favor normal relations with Israel. The momentum for peace across the Arab world is real and growing“. (Emphasis added)
But here we turn to the critical issue of Iran and its potential nuclearisation.
That Iran intends nuclearisation for military purposes is beyond question, as is the fact that Iran foments terrorism broadly via its proxies – Hezbollah in Lebanon; Hamas and PIJ in Gaza; the Houtis in Yemen; forces in Iraq; etc. Iran with nuclear weapons would be a danger to the Middle East and beyond – Israel would be at risk as would the neighboring Gulf Sunni states, and ultimately Europe and even the US as Iran developed long range ballistic missiles (picture below). But it’s not only a question of the potential use of these weapons by Iran, there is also the fact that a nuclearized Iran would generate a proliferation of nuclear weapons in other nations.
Presumably some of the key nations of the world have been struggling with the question of how to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons. But in my humble opinion these nations have been behaving with maximum stupidity and shortsightedness.
The original deal with Iran – the JPCA, negotiated in 2015 between Iran and P5 + 1 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, plus Germany) with participation of the EU – was a farce because it had a sunset clause that allowed legal Iranian nuclearization after a period of time. As it didn’t actually prevent Iranian nuclearization, it was perhaps the ultimate instance of kicking the can down the road – in addition to which monitoring was not sufficient in the interim and Iran is the penultimate cheater.
What is more, there was nothing in the JCPA to prevent Iranian support for terrorist groups.
The US led the JCPA negotiations at a time when Obama was president. Time and again Obama made concessions to Iran, sometimes lying to the American people about what was going on. It was so bad that I often wondered which side Obama was on. And it was Obama who refused to bring the issue of restricting Iranian support for terrorist groups to the negotiating table. At best, he had some naïve and distorted notion of bringing Iran into the family of nations as a peaceful partner; at worst (which I perceive as closer to the truth), it was much more malign and serious.
The lone voice in the wilderness with regard to the dangers of Iran during this time and thereafter was that of Binyamin Netanyahu. I credit him with clear vision and courage to speak out, even as the world for the most part would not listen.
Ultimately, it was Trump who did listen, and I give him credit on this score. In May of 2019, he withdrew the US from the deal, reinstating serious sanctions that had been in place prior to the deal.
It has been said that Trump’s efforts were counterproductive, as Iranian movement towards nuclearization increased after his withdrawal. I see it differently: it was the eagerness of the other parties who had signed on to the accord to continue to trade with Iran that generated the weakness in efforts to forestall Iran’s nuclear plans. Had they all come on board and instituted truly stringent sanctions it might have been very different. Iran must be economically strangled.
So now, in recent months the US has spearheaded efforts to return to the 2015 deal. There is a great deal wrong with this effort. First, it was a bad deal when it was initiated six years ago. But to make matters more problematic, Iran has advanced considerably in its enrichment of uranium. There is no way to return to the conditions of 2015!!
The US has advanced some fairly ridiculous proposals. At one point the Americans were saying they would start by reinstituting the original deal and then negotiate something more stringent. As if!!
What we must keep in mind is that Biden was Obama’s vice president during the original negotiations, and that many of his key people were Obama people first. To have serious expectations with regard to this situation would be foolish.
As Caroline Glick (cited further below) recently wrote: “The Obama-Biden policy is to engage in diplomacy with Iran that will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, with the backing of the UN Security Council. And then to call the outcome ‘peace.’”
But even this policy has failed. At this point, there is a fairly broad recognition that the negotiations are going nowhere, and that the Iranians are not serious about a deal. Blinken and others make statements about “other options” that are on the table, by which it is implied that the US might take military action. Do not believe it for a second.
There has been substantial communication between Israel and the US regarding those “other options,” with hints about a cooperative attack. Defense Minister Gantz was in the US recently with a plan for how to proceed in hand. Again, do not believe anything of substance will come of this. But Gantz also provided the US with a deadline of when Israel would need to complete preparations for an attack.
The only serious player on this score is Israel. And, yes, I do believe that while Bennett is not Netanyahu, this government is also determined to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Israel – which means not just the government, but also the IDF and the Mossad – recognizes this as an existential issue.
Looking further at what Glick has written (emphasis added):
“…Evidence is growing that members of the IDF General Staff and the Mossad are beginning to realize that the US doesn’t share Israel’s goal of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Last week, for instance, Michael Makovsky, head of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, (JINSA) a Washington-based group that cultivates ties between Israeli and US generals, published an article in the New York Post in which he described their rude awakening.
“Makovsky wrote, ‘Recent meetings with senior defense officials from our closest Middle East ally, Israel, were the most pessimistic I can recall. They perceive America as checked out, adrift, pusillanimous, unfeared and desperate to avoid military confrontation, and Iran as emboldened and nearing the nuclear weapons threshold.’
“…the only thing the administration wants is to reach a deal – any deal – with Iran.”
Israel has made it clear to the US that we would not be bound by any agreement that is set in place with Iran; we reserve the right to act on our own behalf. What we must ask, then, is how Israel will cope with standing off Iran.
The first point to be made is that we are active all of the time – bombing Iranian sites in Syria, sabotaging installations inside of Iran. Earlier this month there was an explosion at Natanz, Iran’s major nuclear installation, which had been sabotaged twice before. Several Iranian officials have been assassinated. All of this slows Iran down, it does not stop them.
Earlier this month, David Barnea, head of the Mossad, declared that Israel will do whatever is necessary to make sure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. “Together with our colleagues in the defense establishment, we will do whatever it takes to keep the threat away from the State of Israel, and thwart it in any way.”
Barnea, you can believe. Mossad intelligence is astounding.
Ties with the Sunni Gulf states are being strengthened. This is important because of their fear of Iran.
Prime Minister Bennett has just completed an historic visit to the UAE, during which time Iran was discussed. I’ve read hints about military cooperation, which may be premature, but which are within the realm of possibility. Major cooperation with Saudi Arabia would be most desirable. Here you see Bennett with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Additionally, it has been announced that the IDF will hold a large-scale exercise over the Mediterranean in the spring with dozens of aircraft simulating a strike against Iran’s nuclear program.
“…the drill will be one of the largest ever held by the Israeli Air Force and will include dozens of aircraft, including the F-15, F-35, and F-16 fighters, Gulfstream G550 spy planes, and refueling jets.”
The mention of refueling jets raises a serious issue. Last March, the US State Department approved sale to Israel of up to eight Boeing tanker aircraft, which serve for refueling in air and would replace Israel’s aging Ram (Boeing 707) tanker aircraft that are required for long-range missions. They would be critical for an attack on Iran.
The first two were to arrive in Israel in 2023. During Netanyahu’s last visit to Washington as prime minister, he asked that the first two be delivered in 2022. In October, senior Israel Air Force officers made the same request.
The request has been denied, which speaks volumes about US intentions. Israel still has hopes of reversing that denial.
Related to this is the issue of bunker busters. Israel has some, which burrow into the earth a distance. But we do not possess the enormous bunker busters that would be required for taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities deep underground at Fordow. They combine a delayed fuse that explodes deep underground with massive ordinance.
The US possesses these bombs – the Massive Ordinance Penetrator “MOP,” and its Mother of All Bombs “MOAB” – but has declined to sell them or the planes required for carrying them to Israel. I note that not even Trump was willing.
There are, then, two possibilities. It may be that since these weapons were last requested, Israel has advanced development of massive deep penetration bombs, the existence of which is highly classified. I have read some suggestions that this may be the case – even if they may not rival the size of the US weapons.
The second possibility is that Israel’s attack on Iran, should it occur, would do serious damage and set Iran back by years, but would not be able to totally eliminate its nuclear capacity.
I ask, dear friends, that you pray for the leaders of Israel – those who are Zionists: May they will have the courage and wisdom to move ahead in Israel’s interest, even as we stand alone.
While those in charge here – Bennett, Lapid, Gantz – do intend to act for Israel, it is important for them to have the strength to step back from the US, should American policy be destructive to our security.