Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Russian Farce
by Victor Davis Hanson    National Review   3/28/17

Remember when Obama and Hillary cozied up to Putin? And recall when the media rejoiced at surveillance leaks about Team Trump?

The American Left used to lecture the nation about its supposedly paranoid suspicions of Russia. The World War II alliance with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union had led many leftists to envision a continuing post-war friendship with Russia.

During the subsequent Cold War, American liberals felt that the Right had unnecessarily become paranoid about Soviet Russia, logically culminating in the career of the demagogic Senator Joe McCarthy. Later, in movies such as Seven Days in May, Doctor Strangelove, and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, Hollywood focused on American neuroses as much as Russian hostility for strained relations.

In the great chess rivalry of 1972 known as “The Match of the Century,” American liberals favored Russian grandmaster Boris Spassky over fellow countryman Bobby Fischer, who embarrassed them by winning.

In the same manner, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev was often portrayed in the media as the urbane, suave, and reasonable conciliator, while President Ronald Reagan was depicted as the uncouth disrupter of what could have been improved Russian–American relations.

Senator Ted Kennedy reportedly reached out to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov in 1984 to gain his help in denying Reagan his reelection.

In sum, the American Left always felt that Russia was unduly demonized by the American Right and was a natural friend, if not potential ally, of the United States. That tradition no doubt influenced the decision of the incoming Obama administration to immediately reach out to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, despite is recent aggressions in Georgia and steady crackdown on internal dissent, and despite Russia’s estrangement from the prior Bush administration.

Obama’s Entreaty to the Russians

In March 2012, in a meeting with President Dimitri Medvedev of Russia, President Barack Obama thought his microphone was either off or could not pick up the eerie assurances that he gave the Russian president:

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him [Vladimir Putin] to give me space.”

Medvedev answered: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you . . . ”

Obama agreed and elaborated, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”

Medvedev finished the hot-mic conversation with, “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you.”

A fair interpretation of this stealthy conversation would run as follows:

Barack Obama naturally wanted to continue a fourth year of his reset and outreach to Vladimir Putin, the same way that he was reaching out to other former American enemies such as the Iranians and the Cubans. Yet Obama was uneasy that his opponent, Mitt Romney, might attack him during his reelection campaign as an appeaser of Putin. Thus, to preempt any such attack, Obama might be forced to appear less flexible (offer less “space”) toward Putin than he otherwise would be in a non-election year. In other words, he couldn’t publicly assure Putin that he would be “flexible” about implementing missile defense in Eastern Europe (“all these issues”) until after he was reelected.

An apprehensive Obama, in his hot-mic moment, was signaling that after his anticipated victory, he would revert to his earlier reset with Putin. And most significantly, Obama wished Putin to appreciate in advance the motives for Obama’s campaign-year behavior. Or he at least hoped that Putin would not embarrass him by making international moves that would reflect poorly on Obama’s reset policy.

Furthermore, Obama did not want his implicit quid pro quo proposal to become part of the public record. Had it been public, it might have been interpreted as a message to Putin that he should empathize with Obama’s plight — and that he should interfere with the American election by behaving in a way that would empower Obama’s candidacy rather than detract from it.

In the present hysterical climate, substitute the name Trump for Obama, and we would be hearing Democratic demands for impeachment on grounds that Trump was caught secretly whispering to the Russians about compromising vital national-security issues in a quid pro quo meant to affect the outcome of the 2012 election.

The Architects of Russian Outreach

The Obama administration came up with a reset–soft-glove approach to Vladimir’s Russia, characterized by Secretary Hillary Clinton’s heralded pushing of the red plastic button on March 6, 2009, in Geneva. Reset was couched in overt criticism of George W. Bush, who had supposedly alienated Putin by reacting too harshly (like a typical cowboy) to Russia’s aggression in Georgia.

Over the next few years, the reset policy consisted of, among other things, backtracking on previously agreed-on missile-defense plans in Eastern Europe. In the second presidential debate of 2012, Obama portrayed Romney as being too tough on Russia, to the point of delusion:

A few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaeda. You said Russia. In the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.

The Obama administration invited Russia into the Middle East for the first time in nearly a half-century to help Obama back off from his own redline threats to attack Syria if evidence of WMD usage appeared. Moreover, after the Crimea and eastern Ukraine aggressions, the perception in most of the Western world was that the U.S. was not sufficiently tough with Putin, largely because of its commitment to a prior (though failed) outreach.

So what ended this one-sided reset in 2016?

The estrangement certainly did not coincide entirely with Putin’s aggressions on Russia’s borders. Nor were Democrats inordinately angry with Putin when he bombed non-al-Qaeda Syrian resistance fighters.

Rather, Democrats’ split with Putin grew from the perception that hackers had easily entered the porous e-mail account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign guru John Podesta and released his messages to WikiLeaks. This led to general embarrassment for Hillary and the Democrats — and they floated the theory that WikiLeaks and Julian Assange were taking orders from Putin or at least operating with the encouragement of the Kremlin’s intelligence services.

Hating Hillary?

After the WikiLeaks mess, the image of Putin was reset again, and now he was said to have ordered the hacking because he hated Hillary Clinton and indeed the Obama administration in general.

That was a bizarre indictment. If Putin were really a conniving realist, he would have much preferred Hillary in the 2016 election — given his success in manipulating the Obama-era reset.

Unlike Trump, Clinton would probably have kept the radical Obama defense cuts and perpetuated the restrictions on domestic energy development that were helping Russia. She probably would have likewise continued Obama’s therapeutic approach to foreign policy.

From Russia’s point of view, considering their strategic and economic interests, a pliable Obama 2.0 would have been far better than Trump, with his pro-oil-and-gas domestic agenda, his promised defense buildup, and his unpredictable Jacksonian promises to help friends and hurt enemies.

Squaring the Surveillance Circle

The entire Trump-collusion-with-Russia narrative has now descended into incoherence.

For five months, dating back to the heated final stretch of the 2016 election, mainstream media — in particular Obama-administration pet reporters at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the BBC — ran creepy and occasionally near-obscene stories about “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russians. These published rumors were based on “unnamed sources” often identified generically as American intelligence officers inside the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

Soon that narrative went from ominous to hysterical — but only once Hillary inexplicably lost the election. The anonymous allegations of collusion were used to convict the Trump circle of a veritable pre-election partnership with the Russians. The collusion was to be followed, the story went, with a new reset with Putin — this time born not out of naïveté but of lucre and near treason.

We forget that the Democrats’ narratives of the purported Trump collusion also radically changed to meet changing circumstances.

Before the election, a sure and poor-loser Trump was pathetically cheating with the Russians to stop the fated winner Clinton.

Then, in the post-election shock and transition, the Russian-interference storyline was repackaged as an excuse for the poorly conducted Clinton campaign that had blown a supposedly big lead and sure victory. “The Russians did it” was preferable to blaming Hillary for not visiting Wisconsin once.

Finally, Trump’s Russian connection served as a useful tool to delegitimize an abhorrent incoming Trump administration. And the delegitimizing was made easier by Obama’s eleventh-hour order, days before his departure, to expand the list of federal officials who would have access to sensitive intelligence and surveillance transcripts.

But all such accusations of Trump-Russian complicity, based on admitted leaks from intelligence agencies, required some sort of hard evidence: leaked transcripts of Trump officials clearly outlining shared strategies with the Russians, hard proof of Russian electronic tampering in key swing states, doctored e-mails planted in the Podesta WikiLeaks trove, travel records of Trump people in clandestine meetings with Russian counterparts, or bank records showing cash payoffs.

Yet a hostile media, in collusion with intelligence-agency leakers, has so far provided no such proof. John Podesta had as much invested in Russian profiteering as did former Trump aides. Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation had as many financial dealings with pro-Russian interests as did Trump people. The ubiquitous Russian ambassador had met as many Democratic grandees as he had Trump associates.

The lack so far of hard proof gradually created a boomerang effect. Attention turned away from what “unnamed sources” had alleged to the question of how unnamed sources had gathered surveillance of the Trump people in the first place — as evidenced by media reports of General Flynn’s conversations, of Trump’s private talks with foreign leaders, and of allegations of electronic contact between Russian and Trump Tower computers.

In other words, the media and their sources had gambled that congressional overseers, law enforcement, and the public would all overlook surveillance that may have been illegal or only partly legal, and they would also overlook the clearly illegal leaking of such classified information on a candidate and a president-elect — if it all resulted in a scandal of the magnitude of the Pentagon Papers or Watergate.

So far such a scandal has not emerged. But Trump’s opponents continue to push the Russian narrative not because it is believable but because it exhausts and obfuscates likely illegal surveillance and leaking.

The real scandal is probably not going to be Trump’s contacts with Russians. More likely, it will be the rogue work of a politically driven group of intelligence officers, embedded within the bureaucracy, who, either in freelancing mode, or in Henry II–Thomas Becket fashion (“Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”) with Obama-administration officials, began monitoring Team Trump — either directly or more likely through the excuse of inadvertently chancing upon conversations while monitoring supposedly suspicious foreign communications.

Added to this mess is the role of three unsympathetic characters who are on record as either not telling the truth, deliberately obfuscating it, or showing terrible judgement.

Obama CIA director John Brennan, who assumed that role after the still mysterious and abrupt post-election departure of David Petraeus, has a long history of political gymnastics; he has made many a necessary career readjustment to changing Washington politics. He is on record as being deceptive — he failed to reveal that the CIA intercepted Senate communications. He also stated falsely that the drone program had not resulted in a single collateral death. And, in the spirit of Obama’s new Islamic outreach, Brennan strangely suggested that jihad was a sort of personal odyssey rather than a call to use force in spreading Islamic influence. Brennan is also on record as critical of Trump: Trump “should be ashamed of himself,” Brennan said the day after the inauguration, in response to Trump’s speech to CIA staffers gathered in front of the Memorial Wall of Agency heroes.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has in the past lied to Congress, when he assured that the NSA did not monitor the communications of American citizens. Likewise, he bizarrely asserted that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was largely a secular organization. And more than 50 CENTCOM officers formally accused Clapper of distorting their reports about the Islamic State. Like Brennan, Clapper has been critical of Trump, asking, “Who benefits from a president-elect trashing the intelligence community?”

During the 2016 election, FBI Director James Comey popped up to assure the nation that while Hillary Clinton had conducted herself unethically, and probably in violation of federal statutes in using her private e-mail server for government business and wiping away correspondence, her transgressions did not rise to the level of indictable offenses. It was as if the investigator Comey, rather than the appropriate federal attorney, was adjudicating the decision to charge a suspect.

Then in the final stretch of the race, Comey resurfaced to assert that “new” evidence had led him to reconsider his exculpation of Clinton. And then, on November 6, 2016, just hours before the nation went to the polls, he appeared a third time in front of cameras to reiterate his original judgment that Hillary’s transgressions did not merit further investigation, much less criminal prosecutions. The media contextualized Comey’s schizophrenia as see-saw reactions either to liberal Obama-administration pressures or to near revolts among the more conservative FBI rank-and-file. Just as likely was Comey’s own neurotic itch to seek public attention and to position himself favorably with a likely new president.

Comey’s weird election-era prominence was also apparently fueled by the fact that Attorney General Loretta Lynch was caught in an embarrassing private meeting on the tarmac with Bill Clinton — a meeting during the investigation of his spouse. (The encounter was intended to remain secret, but a local reporter was tipped off.) That unethical encounter had tainted Lynch’s pose of disinterested adjudication, and she accordingly de facto fobbed off her prosecutorial responsibilities to Comey. Comey most lately has asked the Justice Department to refute Trump’s claims that he was subject to electronic surveillance by the government during the last days of the Obama administration.

Given the past assertions and political natures of Brennan, Clapper, and Comey, none are very credible in any future testimony they might give about the Trump-Russia narrative or the role U.S. intelligence agencies played in the possibly illegal monitoring of Trump associates. All three men are even less credible when it comes to the illegal leaking of such classified information to media outlets.

Trump’s infamous and clumsy tweet (“just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower”) may well prove to be inaccurate — literally. But it could also end up being prescient if revelations show that Obama-appointed officials or their underlings used surveillance on foreign officials — three years after the NSA got caught tapping Angela Merkel’s cellphone — in order to sweep up Trump communications and then leak them to the media to damage his candidacy and later his transition.

We are left in the end with paradoxes:

How did Obama’s naïve pro-Putin reset and Clinton-family profiteering transmogrify into wild accusations that others had become even friendlier to such an unsavory character?

How did the image of a sacrosanct media speaking the “truth” of Trump’s collusion with Putin rest on the peddling of false narratives — many of them based on likely illegal surveillance and certainly unethical and unlawful dissemination?

And if Trump was unhinged for leveling wild allegations based on mainstream news reports, why were news outlets themselves — and those who quoted them chapter and verse — not unhinged for spreading such suddenly unreliable information?

What is the explanatory sword that cuts this Gordian knot?

Trump supposedly had zero chance of winning. But when he did, facts had to adjust to a bitter actuality — at first perhaps to explain away reality, but quite soon after to alter it by any means necessary.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017



By Rowan Scarborough
The Army is booting out a 13-year public affairs sergeant for including in an unclassified government email the same information about a special operations unit and Osama bin Laden found on web pages.

The irony in the narrative of Staff Sgt. Ricardo Branch is that his motive was to keep classified material away from public view.

His disclosure in a private Army email is also the same information as told by his commander in chief, Barack Obama, in May 2011 when the president visited Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to personally thank the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), or “Night Stalkers,” for its critical role in killing al Qaeda leader Osamabin Laden.

And the transgression of Sgt. Branch, 34, is on its face far less serious than that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who faced no punishment for keeping classified data on her personal unsecured server.

“The Army just doesn’t want to take responsibility for the fact that Obama told 2,000-plus Fort Campbell soldiers in a public forum after the private meeting with SOAR,” Sgt. Branch told The Washington Times.

Sgt. Branch, now stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, has 10 days to persuade an Army command to reverse the decision or else his beloved career ends.

“I love the Army,” he said. “I like my job. The reason I’m so in love with the Army is I’m a career soldier. I’ve done three tours in Iraq. I’ve survived cancer twice. The Army is my career. It’s what I know. It is my life. My dad was a soldier. My brother’s a soldier. My grandfather was a soldier. I like telling the Army story because I’m a writer. That’s what I do.”

In recent months, Sgt. Branch’s cause has been taken up by a former Army judge advocate, Jeffery Addicott, who directs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Addicott represents, pro bono, military personnel he believes are unjustly prosecuted.

“At a time when President Trump is calling for the buildup of our military, and rightfully so, it is ironic that the Army is seeking to jettison a dedicated, three-time Iraqi War veteran,” Mr. Addicott told The Times.

Safeguarding information

The story begins in February 2014, when Sgt. Branch did public relations for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR).

Sgt. Branch reviewed a proposed article by the Boeing Co. for the defense contractor’s internal news service.

The story told of 160th SOAR personnel visiting a Boeing unit in Mesa, Arizona, and mentioned that the aviation unit inserted the SEAL Team 6 raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistan.

Sgt. Branch realized that the Defense Department had never officially recognized that role. He thus sent an email to his public affairs boss saying that the officer should tell Boeing to delete that sentence.

That was Sgt. Branch’s crime. He repeated the sentence in an official .mil email.

Days later, he learned that a higher-up had seen the email thread and alerted Army intelligence. He was ordered home, and an investigation ensued.

By April he was offered a choice: Face a court-martial or agree to nonjudicial punishment known as an Article 15.

Rather than risk a criminal conviction, he opted for the Article 15 hearing, at which he received an oral reprimand.

End of story, he thought.

The Army transferred Sgt. Branch to Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, where he edited a peninsulawide military newspaper.

The Army had been gearing up a culling operation known as the Quantitative Management Program as budget cuts forced a reduction of thousands of active-duty personnel. The QMP identified blemished soldiers, and Sgt. Branch became one of them in 2015 because his seemingly innocuous Article 15 resulted in a one-time poor performance evaluation.

That was all that was needed for “Big Army” in Washington to single him out for separation.

Sgt. Branch started second-guessing his decision not to seek a court-martial, which Mr. Addicott surmised he would have won.

“In my professional opinion as a JAG officer with 20 years in service and having tried over 150 cases, they would have not brought this to a court-martial if he had turned down the Article 15,” Mr. Addicott said. “There is no way the government would get a conviction, particularly based on the fact that President Obama had already released the information to the public. If they did bring it to a trial, Sgt. Branch would exercise his right to demand a jury, and they would never get a conviction.”

The soldier began appealing, with his best chance being the Army Board for Correction of Military Records. It could nullify his bad performance evaluation and remove the basis for early dismissal. But the board refused — twice.

“I laid out that I protected the information,” Sgt. Branch said. “Boeing took out the point about bin Laden after I gave the guidance of basically recommending an op-sec [operational security] review. The info was safeguarded. Now you guys want to dismiss me.”

By last fall, a desperate Sgt. Branch decided to break out of the chain of command and go pubic. He appeared on the Fox TV station in El Paso, Texas.

Sitting at home in civilian clothes, he told the news crew about the injustice of being fired for merely trying to prevent classified information from appearing in an industry newsletter.

The Army struck again. The command notified him he was now a target of the Criminal Investigation Command (CID). The action started before he went on TV.

The sergeant does not know for sure why a new probe began, but he believes it was based on the information he inserted in his official appeal with the Army Board for Correction. There is a chance the Army knew he had recorded the TV interview.

Agents summoned him to an FBI office and ushered him into a secure room, or “skiff,” to answer questions. As the session became more accusatory, he decided he needed a lawyer present and stopped talking.

Last week, he said, his Force Bliss commander notified him the CID cleared him of wrongdoing. But that meant his service extension would end and the clock started again. He now must be out of the Army in 10 days.

Mr. Addicott said he has been unable to persuade the Army to give him a copy of the CID investigation report to determine the exact allegation. He must file a Freedom of Information Act request.

Sgt. Branch said he did learn he was suspected, but not charged, with disobeying a direct order by appearing on TV.

Obama goes to Fort Campbell

Sgt. Branch’s two years of investigations and appeals started in February 2014. He wrote a line in an official email to his commander saying Boeing should remove references to the bin Laden raid when discussing the 160th SOAR.

By that time, of course, the world knew it was the 160th that inserted the SEALs into a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Then-President Barack Obama drove home the connection just days after the killing, when he and Vice President Joseph R. Biden did a victory lap. They arrived at Fort Campbell to thank, in private, the “Night Stalkers.”

“The leaders’ first stop after landing was to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment compound where the distinguished guests spoke privately with the 160th SOAR leadership and Soldiers,” said the Army’s official story on the visit found on its web address,

Mr. Obama later told 101st Airborne Division soldiers: “I had the privilege of meeting the extraordinary special ops folks who honored that promise. There was a chance for me to say on behalf of all Americans and people around the world, ‘Job well done.’

“These Americans deserve credit for one of the greatest intelligence military operations in our nation’s history,” Mr. Obama said, “but so does every person who wears America’s uniform. The finest military the world has ever known, and that includes all of you men and women of the 101st.”

Another Army story was even more specific about the 160th’s role.

On, a May 9, 2011, Army New Service Story on the Obama visit said: “It was the Night Stalkers who are credited with flying the mission in Pakistan that transported the Navy’s “Seal Team 6” on an operation that resulted in the capture and kill of terrorist Osamabin Laden.”

Sgt. Branch reads those stories today and asks why he is being singled out.

“In 2011 it was on the Army home page,” he said. “It makes no sense to dismiss me from service. Policy dictates that anything published on the Army home page has to be properly vetted through various organizations. Obama visiting Campbell and talking about the bin Laden raid is considered mission and operational security info, [which] means it has to get vetted. It’s still on the home page today.”

The Times asked the 160th public affairs office why it punished a soldier for trying to keep classified material out of public view. The office did not respond.

Sgt. Branch portrays himself as a committed soldier who has endured. He has undergone three tours in Iraq as well as two surgeries to remove a cancerous thyroid gland.

His wife, Elsa, gave birth in November to their son. “My wife delivered three weeks early because of high blood pressure from stress as a result of our fight for me to stay in the Army,” he said.

He spent “every dime we had” on a lawyer before turning to Mr. Addicott and his terrorism law center.

Sgt. Branch provided The Times with his non-commissioned officer (NCO) performance evaluations to show that his superiors gave him high marks before the February 2014 email, one poor evaluation because of it, and then another stellar evaluation a year later in South Korea.

In his 2012 evaluation, his public affairs commander at the 160th said: “potential unlimited; continue to place in positions of greater responsibility.”

He received the highest grade, “excellence,” for overall competence.

In 2015, his first evaluation after the poor one, he received the highest possible score — which the Army calls a “1-1” — for competence and leadership.

His commander wrote “extremely capable NCO; undoubtedly in the top 5 percent of all NCOs I have worked with in the past 15 years.”

Sgt. Branch said the documents show that he was a stellar NCO before the email incident and a top performer afterward in the eyes of his commanders.

On Friday he was summoned for a meeting with his commanding officer and was handed a “counseling letter” that, in fact, served as his termination notice.

The letter said his security clearance was permanently revoked. It said there was probable cause he disclosed the 160th mission a second time, but there was insufficient evidence to seek a court-martial.

Again, Sgt. Branch said he believes the “second time” refers to his written appeals within the Army or possibly his command had heard that he was interviewed for the TV story the previous April. The segment aired in late September. The CID probe began Sept. 1.

Once he receives official notice from Maj. Gen. Robert P. White, 1st Armored Division Commander, he is to report to the Fort Bliss transition office, a final stop from soldier to civilian.

“I’m still waiting on the general and praying he sees me first in his open-door policy,” Sgt. Branch said.

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

Saturday, March 25, 2017



 March 25, 2017
From: TED BELMAN <> 

 Donate USA Donate
Or send checks payable to Ted Belman, Hagdud Haivri #1, Jerusalem, 92344, ISRAEL
If you want to donate $100 or more and wish to receive a US Tax deductible receipt, donate to Israel Institute for Strategic Studies and be sure to mention "Israpundit".

Israpundit is my blog.  I have been publishing it now for 15 years.  It is not a part time effort but a full-time job and then some.

Throughout this entire time, I have advocated for:
- Israel’s democracy i.e strengthening the Knesset over the High Court
- Israel’s historical truth and the rejection of the Palestinian narrative
- Israel’s legal rights to the land
- the legality of the settlements

This advocacy necessitated my push back against the policies of  the EU, the UN, and the BDS movement.

Due in part to that support, Israpundit is constantltly under attack resulting in the shut down of the site for a few minutes to an hour per day.  I have to find an antidote to this.
 I intend to redesign my site to make it quicker and more user friendly and more resistent to attack. After all its been 15 years since it was first designed. It’s time to modernize.

Beyond these one-time expenses there are monthly expenses that must be paid to maintain the site.

I could use all the financial help I can get. Please partner with me in the work that I do.

Only US tax deductible receipts are available but to qualify, you must donate to IISS and mention Israpundit when doing so.

Otherwise you can donate through Paypal as set out above or by sending a check made payable to Ted Belman, to Hagdud Haivri #1, Jerusalem 92344, Israel.

Thanks for your continued interest in the news and views Israpundit brings you.

Ted Belman
Jerusalem, Israel
972 (0)73 740 8844 --

To subscribe visit

Thursday, March 23, 2017


CAROLINE B. GLICK  Jerusalem Post  3-23-17

The Iran deal Trump needs to make with the Russians is clear.

What can be done about Iran? In Israel, a dispute is reportedly raging between the IDF and the Mossad about the greatest threat facing Israel. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot thinks that Hezbollah is the greatest threat facing Israel. Mossad Director Yossi Cohen thinks Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest danger facing the Jewish state.

While the media highlight the two men’s disagreement, the underlying truth about their concerns has been ignored.

Hezbollah and Iran’s nuclear program are two aspects of the same threat: the regime in Tehran.

Hezbollah is a wholly owned subsidiary of the regime. If the regime disappeared, Hezbollah would fall apart. As for the nuclear installations, in the hands of less fanatical leaders, they would represent a far less acute danger to global security.

So if you undermine the Iranian regime, you defeat Hezbollah and defuse the nuclear threat.

If you fail to deal with the regime in Tehran, both threats will continue to grow no matter what you do, until they become all but insurmountable.

So what can be done about Tehran? With each passing day we discover new ways Iran endangers Israel and the rest of the region.

This week we learned Iran has built underground weapons factories in Lebanon. The facilities are reportedly capable of building missiles, drones, small arms and ammunition. Their underground location protects them from aerial bombardment.

Then there is Hezbollah’s relationship to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).

For more than a decade, the Americans have been selling themselves the implausible claim that the LAF is a responsible fighting force capable and willing to rein in Hezbollah. Never an easy claim – the LAF provided targeting information to Hezbollah missile crews attacking Israel in 2006 – after Hezbollah domesticated the Lebanese government in 2008, the claim became downright silly. And yet, over the past decade, the US has provided the LAF with weapons worth in excess of $1 billion. In 2016 alone the US gave the LAF jets, helicopters, armored personnel carriers and missiles worth more than $220 million.

In recent months, showing that Iran no longer feels the need to hide its control over Lebanon, the LAF has openly stated that it is working hand in glove with Hezbollah.

Last November, Hezbollah showcased US M113 armored personnel carriers with roof-mounted Russian anti-aircraft guns, at a military parade in Syria. The next month the Americans gave the LAF a Hellfire missile-equipped Cessna aircraft with day and night targeting systems.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun is a Hezbollah ally. So is Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf and LAF commander Gen. Joseph Aoun.

Last month President Aoun told Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, that Hezbollah serves “a complementary role to the Lebanese army.”

And yet the Americans insist that it continues to make sense – and to be lawful – to arm the LAF.

You can hardly blame them. Denial is an attractive option, given the alternatives.

For the past eight years, the Obama administration did everything in its power to empower Iran. To make Iran happy, Obama did nothing as hundreds of thousands of Syrians were killed and millions more were forced to flee their homes by Iran and its puppet Bashar Assad.

Obama allowed Iran to take over the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military. He sat back as Iran’s Houthi proxy overthrew the pro-US regime in Yemen.

And of course, the crowning achievement of Obama’s foreign policy was his nuclear deal with the mullahs. Obama’s deal gives Iran an open path to a nuclear arsenal in a bit more than a decade and enriches the regime beyond Ayatollah Khamenei’s wildest dreams.

Obama empowered Iran at the expense of the US’s Sunni allies and Israel, and indeed, at the expense of the US’s own superpower status in the region, to enable the former president to withdraw the US from the Middle East.

Power of course, doesn’t suffer a vacuum, and the one that Obama created was quickly filled.

For decades, Russia has been Iran’s major arms supplier. It has assisted Iran with its nuclear program and with its ballistic missile program. Russia serves as Iran’s loyal protector at the UN Security Council.

But for all the help it provided Tehran through the years, Moscow never presented itself as Iran’s military defender.

That all changed in September 2015. Two months after Obama cut his nuclear deal with the ayatollahs, Russia deployed its forces to Syria on behalf of Iran and its Syrian and Lebanese proxies.

In so doing, Russia became the leading member and the protector of the Iranian axis.

Russia’s deployment of forces had an immediate impact not only on the war in Syria, but on the regional power balance as a whole. With Russia serving as the air force for Iran and its Syrian and Hezbollah proxies, the Assad regime’s chances of survival increased dramatically. So did Iran’s prospects for regional hegemony.

For Obama, this situation was not without its advantages.

In his final year in office, Obama’s greatest concern was ensuring that his nuclear deal with Iran would outlive his presidency. Russia’s deployment in Syria as the protector of Iran and its proxies was a means of achieving this end.

Russia’s alliance with Iran made attacking Iran’s nuclear program or its Hezbollah proxy a much more dangerous prospect than it had been before.

After all, in 2006, Russia supported Iran and Hezbollah in their war against Israel. But Russia’s support for Iran and its Lebanese legion didn’t diminish Israel’s operational freedom. Israel was able to wage war without any fear that its operations would place it in a direct confrontation with the Russian military.

This changed in September 2015.

The first person to grasp the strategic implications of the Russian move was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu recognized that with Russian forces on the ground in Syria, the only way for Israel to take even remedial measures to protect itself from Iran and its proxies was to drive a wedge between President Vladimir Putin and the ayatollahs wide enough to enable Israel to continue its raids against weapons convoys to Hezbollah and other targets without risking a confrontation with Russia. This is the reason that Netanyahu boarded a flight to Moscow to speak to Putin almost immediately after the Russian leader deployed his forces to Syria.

Israel’s ability to continue to strike targets in Syria, whether along the border on the Golan Heights or deep within Syrian territory, is a function of Netanyahu’s success in convincing Putin to limit his commitment to his Iranian allies.

Since President Donald Trump entered the White House, Iran has been his most urgent foreign policy challenge. Unlike Obama, Trump recognizes that Iran’s nuclear program and its threats to US economic and strategic interests in the Persian Gulf and the Levant cannot be wished away.

And so he has decided to deal with Iran.

The question is, what is he supposed to do? Trump has three basic options.

He can cut a deal with Russia. He can act against Iran without cutting a deal with Russia. And he can do nothing, or anemically maintain Obama’s pro-Iran policies.

The first option has the greatest potential strategic payoff. If Trump can convince Russia to ditch Iran, then he has a chance of dismantling the regime in Tehran and so defusing the Iranian nuclear program and destroying Hezbollah without having to fight a major war.

The payoff to Russia for agreeing to such a deal would be significant. But if Trump were to adopt this policy, the US has a lot of bargaining chips that it can use to convince Putin to walk away from the ayatollahs long enough for the US to defuse the threat they pose to its interests.

The problem with the Russia strategy is that since Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, the Democrats, their allied media outlets and powerful forces in the US intelligence community have been beset by a Russia hysteria unseen since the Red scares in the 1920s and 1950s.

The fact that Obama bent over backward to cater to Putin’s interests for eight years has been pushed down the memory hole.

Also ignored is the fact that during her tenure as secretary of state, Clinton approved deals with the Russians that were arguably antithetical to US interests while the Clinton Foundation received millions of dollars in contributions from Russian businessmen and companies closely allied with Putin.

Since November 8, the Democrats and their clapping seals in the media and allies in the US intelligence community have banged the war drums against Russia, accusing Trump and his advisers of serving as Russian patsies at best, and Russian agents at worst.

In this climate, it would be politically costly for Trump to implement a Russian-based strategy for dismantling the Iranian threat.

This brings us to the second option, which is to confront Iran and Russia. Under this option, US action against Iran could easily cause hostilities to break out between the US and Russia. It goes without saying that the political fallout from making a deal with Russia would be nothing compared to the political consequences if Trump were to take the US down a path that led to war with Russia.

Obviously, the economic and human costs of such a confrontation would be prohibitive regardless of the political consequences.

This leaves us with the final option of doing nothing, or anemically continuing to implement Obama’s policies, as the Americans are doing today.

Although tempting, the hard truth is that this is the most dangerous policy of all.

You need only look to North Korea to understand why this is so.

Seemingly on a daily basis, Pyongyang threatens to nuke America. And the US has no good options for dealing with the threat.

As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged during his recent trip to Asia, decades of US diplomacy regarding North Korea’s nuclear program did nothing to diminish or delay the threat.

North Korea has been able to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles while threatening the US with destruction because North Korea enjoys the protection of China. If not for the Chinese, the US would long ago have dealt a death blow to the regime.

Israel has moved Russia as far away from Iran as it can on its own. It is enough to stop convoys of North Korean weapons from crossing into Lebanon.

But it isn’t enough to cause serious harm to Tehran or its clients.

The only government that can do that is the American government.

Trump built his career by mastering the art of deal making. And he recognized that Obama’s deal with Iran is not the masterpiece Obama and his allies claim but a catastrophe.

The Iran deal Trump needs to make with the Russians is clear. The only question is whether he is willing to pay the political price it requires.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Unfortunately,  HIDING EVIDENCE OF ITS OWN INNOCENCE is too common. with the IDF.

1.      Possibly most damaging was the Al Dura  incident where an IDF officer prematurely rushed to accept Israeli responsibility for the incident.
Later, German TV reported that Palestinians likely killed Gaza boyJerusalem Post - ALLISON KAPLAN SOMMER and HERB KEINON Mar 20, 2002
A German documentary producer who thoroughly investigated the killing of a Palestinian boy a year-and-a- half ago said yesterday it is "much more likely" 12-year- old Muhammad ad-Dura was killed by Palestinian gunmen, and not by Israeli soldiers.
Dura was shot to death in a Gaza Strip cross fire on September 30, 2000, while crouching for safety with his father. The incident was filmed by the France2 television network, and the pictures had a dramatic impact on the public perception of Israel's use of force, with the IDF widely accused of killing the boy.
Among the questions raised were who had an interest in killing the boy; whether France2, which filmed the incident, released all the footage in its possession; whether it was possible to hit Dura from where the soldiers were positioned; where are the bullets taken from the boy's body; why did the Palestinians not investigate the incident; and who ordered the footage broadcast continuously on Palestinian television.

2.      During and after the   Lebanon war of 2006,  Human Rights Watch accused Israel of carrying out indiscriminate air strikes that killed hundreds of civilians . Human Rights Watch said Israel showed "reckless indifference" to the fate of civilians and disputed  its argument that Hezbollah used them as human shields.

In one highly publicized incident a residential tower collapsed some hours after an Israeli air  strike killing many civilian refugees  including women and children. The IDF  had  wing surveillance cameras on the attacking aircraft that showed that the Hezbollah was using the courtyard of that residence  to launch missiles. However the IDF kept the relevant film secret and resisted its  release until well after the accusations  had caused the IDF TO terminate  similar IDF airborne attacks.

3.     During Gaza one, Breaking the Silence accused Israel of employing phosphorus artillery rounds  In attacking targets in areas where civilians were present. IDF and US Army review showed that US policy was followed in more than 98% of the firings, that most of the complaints were from smoke that arose from high explosive shells and the complaints of total number of  casualties were exaggerated as most of them  were reported as  dizziness and nausea. Breaking the Silence refused to accept the findings and continued to make the accusations. Needless to say, the accusations received far wider media circulation than did its rebuttal.

4.     HIDING EVIDENCE OF ITS OWN INNOCENCE By Evelyn Gordon March 16, 2017

[Within about 24 hours of the most high-profile civilian casualty incident of the 2009 Gaza war, Israel had obtained evidence casting doubt on its responsibility for those  deaths. But it sat on this evidence for more than eight years.]

I’m not naïve enough to think that better PR would solve all of Israel’s international relations problems. But there’s no question that incompetent PR makes its situation much worse. As one example, consider Tuesday’s shocking revelation: Within about 24 hours of the most high-profile civilian casualty incident of the 2009 Gaza war, Israel had obtained evidence casting doubt on its responsibility for that death. But it sat on this evidence for more than eight years, finally releasing it only as part of a defense brief in a civil suit by the victims’ father.

The incident in question took place on January 16, 2009, when Israeli troops fighting in Gaza came under sniper fire. The troops fired two shells at an observation post that seemed to be directing the snipers. The observation post was located on the third floor of a building which, unbeknownst to the soldiers, was also the home of a well-known doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish. Three of Abuelaish’s daughters were killed, along with one of his nieces; several other family members were wounded. Abuelaish, who worked in Israel, maintained good relations with Israelis and advocated for Israeli-Palestinian peace, later became famous worldwide when he published a book about this incident and his response to it, called I Shall Not Hate. Israel was blamed worldwide for the Abuelaish casualties and never publicly challenged the assumption of its guilt. Yet it now turns out that within a day after the incident, it had evidence indicating that its shells may not have caused the carnage.

The evidence came in the form of laboratory tests conducted on six pieces of shrapnel extracted from the two casualties treated in Israel (the other wounded weren’t brought to Israel, nor were any of the dead, so no shrapnel from the other victims was available). The tests showed that alongside traces of various explosives used by both the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas, at least one fragment contained an explosive called R-Salt, which isn’t used by the IDF but is commonly used in improvised explosive devices in Gaza. Moreover, all six fragments contained potassium nitrate, another substance not used in IDF weaponry that is used in Hamas’s homemade Qassam rockets.

A follow-up report a month later, which compared the shrapnel to the specific type of Israeli shells fired, concluded that four of the six fragments could not possibly have come from those shells; a fifth “may have come” from an IDF shell, and apparently, no conclusions were possible about the sixth.

All of the above indicates that Hamas or a smaller Palestinian organization was using the house as a weapons cache. According to the IDF, there is no other way to account for the presence of non-IDF explosives in the shrapnel.

This in no way implies culpability on Abuelaish’s part; Palestinian terrorists routinely store weaponry in civilian houses without the owners’ consent or even knowledge. But it does raise the possibility that the Israeli shells, which were intended to take out the observation post without significant damage to the house, would not have caused such extensive casualties had the house not contained a concealed weapons cache–something the soldiers couldn’t have known–which exploded when the shells hit. And if so, then Israel clearly isn’t responsible for the deaths: It used a reasonable amount of force to respond to a legitimate military threat and could not have foreseen the deadly consequences.

One of the most common accusations leveled at Israel by its critics is that because it possesses precision weaponry capable of feats like destroying a single room without damaging the rest of the building, any civilian casualties it causes must be the result of criminal negligence at best and deliberate murder at worst. That conclusion is obviously possible only if you ignore various salient facts, such as that mistakes are inevitable in wartime when soldiers must often make split-second decisions based on imperfect information.

But one of those salient facts is Hamas’s habit of storing arms and ammunition in civilian houses–without, obviously, informing Israel of the caches’ locations. This means that no matter how carefully Israeli troops choose their munitions, they have no way to protect against the possibility that an arms cache they didn’t know about will set off secondary explosions, resulting in far more extensive damage than they intended.

This fact is essential to understanding why the blame for most civilian casualties actually rests not with Israel, which does try hard to use proportionate military force, but with Hamas, which deliberately endangers its own civilian population by hiding weapons in their houses. Yet since it is frequently not well understood overseas, Israel has every interest in publicizing high-profile examples as heavily as possible.

Instead, it sat on its information about the Abuelaish case for eight years. The lab report was kept so secret that even Abuelaish’s lawyers didn’t know of its existence until last week, although the suit was filed back in 2010. And then, having finally been forced to disclose the report to defend against the lawsuit, the government nevertheless made no attempt to publicize it; it came to light only because a reporter took the trouble to read the defense brief and realized that the information was newsworthy.

Obviously, information like this won’t change a single Israel hater’s mind. But there are many people of goodwill, especially overseas Jews, who sincerely want to believe that the IDF strives to avoid civilian casualties, but can’t understand why, if so, they nevertheless keep occurring.

Israel has many valid answers to that question, including the fact that its civilian-to-military casualty ratio is actually lower than that of other Western armies. But these answers are useless if it doesn’t take the trouble to publicize them. Sitting on exculpatory information about a high-profile case for eight years is hardly the way to assuage its supporters’ concerns.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The State Department - A Systematic Blunderer

Yoram Ettinger   Published on Mar 12, 2017

A review of the mistaken analyses and erroneous conclusions of the US State Department with respect to the Middle East region. 

1. In 2011, the Department of State welcomed the Arab Tsunami, which has   displaced millions of people and murdered hundreds of thousands – and keeps raging - as an Arab Spring, youth revolution, Facebook revolution and a transition towards democracy.

 2. In 2011, the State Department recommended the toppling of Gaddafi in Libya, in spite of Gaddafi's transfer of Libya's nuclear infrastructure to the US in 2003, and irrespective of his fierce battle against Islamic terrorism. The toppling of the ruthless Gaddafi transformed Libya into the largest, lawless platform of Islamic terrorism in the Middle East, spilling over into Africa, Europe and the rest of the world, severely undermining the US national and homeland security.

. 3. The State Department has severely misperceived the Palestinian issue as if it were a core cause of Middle East turbulence, but none of the volcanic events from Iran to Mauritania are related to the Palestinian issue.  The State Department considers the Palestinian issue a crown-jewel of Arab policy-making, but most Arab policy-makers shower Palestinians with talk, but not walk, considering the Palestinian leadership a role-model of treachery, back-stabbing, intra-Arab terrorism and corruption. Palestinian leaders are welcome in Western capitals by red carpets, but in Arab capitals by shabby rugs. In 1991, Kuwait expelled almost 300,000 Palestinians due to their collaboration with Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

 4. In 1993, the State Department endorsed Arafat as a Nobel Laureate, embracing him as a messenger of peace, in defiance of Arafat’s 40-year-old trail of terrorism against Jews and mostly Arabs in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait, and regardless of Arafat's status – from the 1970s - as a role model of anti-Western international terrorism. 

.   5. In 2016 the Department of State embraces Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as a messenger of peace, in defiance of his track record: a graduate of KGB training, who coordinated PLO ties with the Soviet Bloc; expelled from Egypt (1955), Syria (1966) and Jordan (1970) for subversion; co-planned the murder of eleven Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games; collaborated with Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which triggered the First Gulf War; a 70-year-trail of terrorism against Jews and mostly Arabs; a repressive and corrupt rule of the Palestinian Authority, exacerbated by the establishment of an anti-Israel, anti-US and anti-Semitic Palestinian hate-education, which is the most effective production-line of terrorists.

6. During the 1980s, the State Department considered Saddam Hussein an ally in the confrontation against Iran, ignoring the fact that the enemy of my enemy could also be my enemy.  Until the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq received from the US dual-use commercial and defense technologies, $5BN loan guarantees and vital intelligence, assuming that a well-fed Saddam would be less of a threat.  

. 7. On July 19, 1990, on the eve of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the US ambassador to Baghdad, April Gillespie, told Saddam Hussein: "an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait would be considered, by Washington, an inter-Arab issue," providing a green light for the invasion of Kuwait, and planting the seeds of the first and second Iraq Wars and their devastating ripple effects. 

8. In 1981, the US Administration punished Israel for the bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor.  Ten years later, then Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, thanked Israel publicly "for eradicating the Iraqi reactor in 1981, which spared the US a calamitous nuclear confrontation in 1991." 

9. During the late 1970s, the State Department was actively pursuing the downfall of the pro-US Shah of Iran, supporting Ayatollah Khomeini, who was perceived as a human-rights warrior in defiance of an oppressive ruler.  Thus, the Department of State facilitated the transformation of Iran from "the US policeman of the Gulf" to the worst enemy of the US, terrorizing pro-US Arab regimes, sponsoring global Islamic terrorism, collaborating with North Korea in the pursuit of nuclear and ballistic capabilities, supporting anti-US countries in Latin America, and brainwashing Iranian youth to fight "the modern-day arrogant crusader, the Big American Satan."  

. 10. In 1977, Israel and Egypt conducted direct negotiation, focusing on Israel-Egypt issues, in defiance of State Department's pressure to join a futile international peace conference, which was supposed to focus on the Palestinian issue and Jerusalem.  Following a futile pressure, on Israel and Egypt, to abort direct negotiation and join an international conference, the US jumped on the successful Israel-Egypt peace bandwagon.

11. Until 2011, the State Department considered Hafiz, and then Bashar, Assad reliable leaders, pressuring Israel to concede the historically and militarily critical Golan Heights. Syria's track record, in particular, and the tectonic Arab Tsunami, in general, highlight the recklessness of the State Department.

12. In 1948, the US State Department was convinced that the establishment of the Jewish State would trigger a war, which would result in a second Jewish Holocaust; that the Jewish State would be a strategic burden upon the US, and it would join the Communist Bloc. In order to dissuade Ben Gurion from declaration of independence, the State Department convinced President Truman to threaten Ben Gurion with economic sanctions, and to impose a military embargo on the region, while Britain supplied arms to the Arabs.

13. In 2016, the State Department plays an active role in Israel-Palestinian negotiation, prejudging the outcome, by pressuring Israel to reckless retreat to a 9-15 mile-wide sliver along the Mediterranean, over-towered by the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria. The State Department's involvement has radicalized the Palestinians who expect the US to extract more concessions from Israel.