Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director at the Washington, D.C. based Jewish Policy Center. She has been a frequent guest on The Lisa Benson Show regarding US-Israel relations, the Obama Administration and national security. On the first program of the New Year, January 3, 2016, she appeared to address allegations raised by a Wall Street Journal article about NSA spying on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and by happenstance, Members of Congress and American Jewish leaders, “US Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress. “ She also responded to an NER Iconoclast post on whether the Israel Defense Force was prepared to meet the threat of ISIS affiliates on both the Syrian frontier and the Egyptian Sinai. She also spoke of an emerging relationship with Putin’s Russia allowing Israeli freedom to attack Hezbollah targets in Syria.
Listen to the segment with Bryen on the Benson show Podcast of January 3, 2016 starting at the 20 minute mark:
As is our practice in producing the weekly Benson Show, we send our guests a set of suggested questions requesting they select a limited number to respond in what a fast is paced packed 44 minutes. Bryen prepared written responses to the original of set of questions. Below are her astute and illuminating responses.
What is real story behind the Wall Street Journal report alleging NSA spying on Israeli PM Netanyahu, Congressional members and American Jewish Leaders?
Bryen: The administration was spying on Congress; maybe still is. The White House tried to put a layer of protection between itself and illegal NSA activity by saying “do what you want.” If there was a problem or a lawsuit over this, the White House position wouldn’t hold up. NSA was spying on Israel and vice versa – nothing new.
The real targets were Congress and American Jews. I don’t see that Congress knew about this specific spying. Surely no one up there is naive and they know they are listened to. This is important for the next points. That makes the idea that they would get on the phone with Israeli Ambassador to US Ron Dermer and allow him to bribe them over the wire totally ridiculous. Whatever NSA got, they did not get it from tapping Dermer’s phone. They probably also did not get it from tapping Congressional phones because Congress assumes it is tapped and no one was discussing bribery. What could you bribe a Congressman with to get his/her vote on this?
There was no collusion between Ron Dermer and the American Jewish community. I was part of the machinations opposing the nuclear deal with Iran, although the Jewish Policy Center does not lobby; we are only in the information business. “The Jews” knew their talking points and didn’t need Dermer for anything. If they talked to him, that is one thing. However, needing him for “talking points,” again, that is ridiculous. If there are intercepts of American Jews talking to Congressional members it would have to come from bugging Congress. Lee Smith, of The Weekly Standard makes the point that if there was bribery or attempted bribery involved, there would already be criminal cases. There are none, of course. So, where does that leave us?
NSA spying is only supposed to be done for issues of National Security. One can make the argument that if the US government thought Israel was going to bomb Iran, it would rise to that level. However by 2013, the US was positive Israel was not going to do that. What comes after is political.
Are the enemies of the White House are Congress and the Jews? Congress because Obama knew it opposed the deal. That is why the talks needed to be secret. Also, the talks leading to the talks needed to be secret. They were worried that Israel would spill the beans. Israel didn’t.
There were several incidents in which the Administration let people know what the problems were. Lee Smith points in his article to a Jon Stewart interview with the President. There is also The New York Times (NYT) editorial that accused Jews of being more loyal to a foreign government than to the US. Senators Schumer and Menendez were damned as “beholden to donors” – code word for Jews.
Obama told Stewart: “If people are engaged, eventually the political system responds. Despite the money, despite the lobbyists, it still responds.” Stewart said, “What do you mean by lobbyists?” The President didn’t answer, but after the signing of the JCPOA, he said Congress would evaluate this agreement fairly, “not based on lobbying, but based on what is in the national interests of the United States of America.”
The NYT reported on a Democratic Issues Conference in Baltimore where the President said he understood the pressures that senators face from “donors and others.” However, according to the NYT, Obama urged the lawmakers to “take the long view rather than make a move for short-term political gain,” meaning money and Jewish support. Menendez was offended.
Smith actually thinks there was no specific bugging going on, but just an attempt to intimidate Congress and the Jews. I disagree. They think they are above the law on these things. And they may be, but it doesn’t appear to matter.
Why are media accusations unfounded that American Jewish leaders and U.S. Congressional friends of Israel take their cues from the Israeli Embassy?
Bryen: Because those accusations presume American Jews NEED someone to tell them how they are supposed to feel about a political issue. On its face that is ant-Semitic. American Jews are a sophisticated community of Americans – although I have some disagreements with where they come out on some issues – they don’t need anyone, particularly a foreign government, to tell them what to think or what to do about issues.
Have these disclosures impacted on US- Israel intelligence cooperation and weapons deliveries to maintain Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge?
Bryen: No, there is no present impact that I can discern. First, all intelligence agencies assume that they are being spied on by both friends and enemies. It’s nothing new. Second, the relationship works both ways – the American intelligence services rely on Israel for information in the region.
What options does Congress have to bar lifting sequestered funds of Iran now that the Administration announced delays in new sanctions in view of Iran’s violation of ballistic missile testing under UN Resolutions?
They’re talking about new sanctions laws in Congress after the holiday recess. Note that Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is the loudest voice on this. He voted FOR the JCPOA and he’s figured out that the deal was a disaster and Secretary Kerry’s “snapback sanctions” were a joke.
Congress can pass any law it wants – sanctions included. Iran’s public interpretation of the deal is that any new sanctions would violate the JCPOA and leave Iran free to withdraw from it – or actually, continue to violate it. The White House appears to be siding with Iran including on the secure visa procedure, which is absolutely an obligation of Congress. Iran remains on the State Sponsor of Terror list because of its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. If the White House does not want more sanctions, it will threaten a veto. Then you will have the extraordinary spectacle of a U.S. government shielding the world’s top sponsor of terror from the United States Congress.
How prepared is the IDF to contend with threats from ISIS in both Syria and the Sinai?
Bryen: Israel is in a continual state of readiness. For years they have had to closely identify and track the threats. They are helped by the determination of Egypt in Sinai – with which the US government should be thrilled. It is the actual implementation of the Camp David Accords. The problem for the US in the Sinai is that we have the Multilateral Force and Observers there – MFO – primarily manned by Americans. It is a holdover from Camp David designed to ensure that the Egyptians don’t move military equipment into Sinai in quantities larger than Camp David permitted. Now it is a target for ISIS and affiliated Bedouin groups.
Israel is helped on the northern front by the fact that at the moment neither the Assad government nor Hezbollah wants to open another front and Russia would not permit it. The Israel-Russia relationship is fascinating. It is mutually beneficial right now and has the seeds of longer-lasting cooperation.
As for ISIS, while in theory killing Jews would be fine, it doesn’t need a second front either. There is a growing threat of ISIS-inspired organizations on the Syrian border, where multiple local factions have pledged allegiance to ISIS leadership. The more immediate risk, however, is most likely related to ISIS’ possible impact on Israeli Arab youth, both within Israel and in Judea and Samaria.
Given the latest killings of Israelis in Tel Aviv by an Israel Arab, what can the Netanyahu government do to prevent such deadly attacks?
Bryen: We don’t’ have all the information, including whether or not it was actually terrorism. It didn’t have the usual “fingerprints.” The perpetrator was an Israeli Arab citizen who had served five years for a previous attack on an IDF solider. He used a firearm deliberately hitting two people, not spraying the restaurant for maximum casualties. The attack was in the heart of Tel Aviv and he fled the scene. Israeli Police hedged on whether it was simply a criminal act. If it was a terrorist, it appears to be of the “lone wolf” variety, which means Israel has the same problem the U.S. does.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.