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‘The Golan is ours’ — Israel Sovereignty and American National Security

A momentous joint press conference was held at the White House with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu on February 15, 2017. For the first time in recent memory, a U.S. President was not demanding that Israel relinquish sovereign territory that had been granted under international law. That meant that the Jewish nation was entitled to negotiate secure borders in the land west of the river.

Things appear to be changing in the Middle East among the Sunni Arab monarchies, Emirates and states recognizing that America’s democratic ally is the proverbial strong horse opposing the hegemonic aspirations of the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran. An Iran that in consort with its proxy Hezbollah is actively engaging in creating a Shia crescent from the Persian Gulf via Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean Coast of Lebanon. Moreover, Iran has control of two world maritime choke points in the oil trades; the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab al Mandab (at the mouth of the Red Sea).

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The Golani tree symbol of the IDF Golani Brigade of the Northern command.

For Israel there is evidence that Iran’s IRGC Qods force and its proxy Hezbollah are ranging across the vital Golan Heights frontier. That is reflected in clashes that resulted in the deaths of IRGC Generals and a Hezbollah commander, son of the terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyah.   A frontier that is also witnessing the expansion of ISIS militia on the southern portion of the Golan frontier.

The Golan is strategic to Israel’s national security reflected in its annexation by Israel’s parliament the Knesset in 1981. Yet, there have been efforts at the UN suggesting that Israel’s sovereign claim to the Golan is questioned. That despite it being included in the original Palestine Mandate granted to Great Britain at the Sam Remo conference in 1920. After two climatic wars fought in 1967 and in 1973, Israel is not about to give up its sovereign claim to the Golan.Further, Israel’s ears on the Middle East can be found on the summit of Mount Hermon at the base of the frontier monitoring digital communications.  IDF Golani units are deployed on the heights of this important bastion.  The UNDOF force in the demilitarized has been routed during the six plus years of the Syrian civil war. Israel has provided humanitarian aid and medical assistance to Syrian civilians and casualties of opposition militias often treating them in field hospitals and in emergency cases sending them to hospitals in central Israel.  The Syrian frontier on the Golan divides the Druze community, the Israeli branch of which are loyal citizens and yet understand the predicament of their cousins across the frontier.

There has been talk of establishment of so-called safe zones in southern Syria at the apex where Israel, Jordan and Israel meet.  At issue is what international forces would staff it. Given the record of the UN peacekeepers it is dubious that it could effectively defend the suggested safe zones. Israel’s experience in the Lebanon wars indicates that it is not about to take on the responsibility of a security zone in Syria. The one in Lebanon ended disastrously in the pell mell withdrawal from the Southern security zone   in 2000.

That apex at the conjunction of the three counties frontiers is now the target of the Islamic State. A recent Jewish Press report confirms the activity of Islamic State Salafist militia overrunning the apex area of Southern Syria, Jordan and Israel threatening the Golan frontier. It reports that the ISIS militia is lead by a Palestinian Salafist. While the IDF Chief of Staff Eizenkot would like the UNDOF to block further movement by the ISIS, their track record has been abysmal. Thus his assessment is that the IDF on the northern frontier could see intense fighting occur this spring.

Jonathan Schanzer and Marc Dubowitz crystallized in a Wall Street Journal article, “Golan,” stressing the vital importance of Israel’s sovereignty.  They noted:

Benjamin Netanyahu has achieved his primary objective of resetting ties with the U.S. after eight years of tensions. True, the Israeli prime minister and Donald Trump still need to bridge the gap on issues such as Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy and West Bank settlements. But they seem to be on the same page on a broad range of regional matters.

That could lead to a breakthrough on an issue of strategic importance to Israel. According to reports of the two leaders’ meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu asked for U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The move makes sense for both sides. It would provide the Israeli government with a diplomatic win while helping the Trump administration signal to Russia and Iran that the U.S. is charting a new course in Syria.

[…]

By recognizing Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan, the Trump administration would signal to Russia that, while Washington may now coordinate with Moscow on activities such as fighting Islamic State, it doesn’t share Russia’s goals for Syria.

Moreover, it would show that the U.S. will take a tougher line on the provision of arms and intelligence to Iran and Hezbollah.

Recognition of Israel’s Golan claims would acknowledge that it needs these highlands to hold off a multitude of asymmetric and conventional military threats from Syria—and whatever comes after the war there. Israel continues to target Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah to prevent them from establishing a base of operations on the Syrian Golan.

Recognizing Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan would also soften the Palestinians’ core demand for a state within the 1967 borders. If an international border can be revised along the Syrian border, the Palestinians will have a harder time presenting the 1949 armistice line along the West Bank as inviolable.

Against this background we reached out to someone who knows the strategic importance of what Messrs. Schanzer and Dubowitz have espoused, Ambassador Yoram Ettinger former Israeli emissary in Washington involved with Congressional liaison.

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Mike Bates

Mike Bates:  Good afternoon welcome back to Your Turn, this is Mike Bates. We continue with our conversation, our Middle East round table discussion. With me in studio is Jerry Gordon,  Senior Editor of the New English Review and his blog the Iconoclast.

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Jerry Gordon

Jerry Gordon: Glad to be back.

Bates: And joining us by telephone from Israel is Yoram Ettinger, former Israeli Congressional Liaison.

Yoram Ettinger: Thank you very much.

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Former Ambassador Yoram Ettinger

Bates: Ambassador Ettinger, from your perspective as a former Israeli Emissary involved with Congressional relations, how significant was the outcome of the joint press conference at the White House on January 15th?

Ettinger: I would say that the outcome of the meeting between the leaders of the US and Israel is very significant.  It signals reconnection of the US administration with Middle Eastern reality after eight years – and more years – of assuming that the Palestinian issue is the core cause of regional turbulence and the crown jewel of Arab policymaking. Now there is an Administration that realizes, with all due respect, the Palestinian issue is not the primary or secondary, not even tertiary issue when it comes to Middle East priorities. The current administration seems to focus on the major threats to the US as well as to Western democracies and the regional and global stability. These are: Iran’s megalomaniacal aspirations and its  aim to become a major nuclear power. Second is Islamic terrorism  and third, the need to minimize the clear and present danger to every  pro- American Arab regime in the middle east, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain and Oman.

On all of those issues – Iran, Islamic terrorism, and the need to stabilize the pro- American Arab regimes – Israel plays a very unique role. The question is, are you going to sacrifice the very essential cooperation between US and Israel on the altar of the Palestinian issue? It seems to me that President Trump and his advisors may or may not go along entirely with Israel’s view of the Palestinian issue.  They are not going to sacrifice dire American national security interests on the altar of the Palestinian issue, which is not, is not, a core cause as far as Arab policymaking is concerned.

Bates: Ambassador Ettinger, I realize Israel is a democratic country, and like every democratic country, the people are not unified in their view of the world any more so in Israel as it is in the United States. But I’m curious. If you can generalize, what is the sense of the Israeli people to President Trump versus what we had for the previous eight years, President Obama?

Ettinger: Certainly Israel is highly diversified as far as ideology, as far as world view, even as far as Judaism is concerned.  However, one should note that a major factor in Israel is a sense of patriotism. We see that on the occasion of wars, on the occasion of conflicts with Arab countries, and recently on the issue of the Palestinians.  We see coalitions of all the big groups in Israel.  In fact, something which is not common in the US. The  majority of our special operation forces are very Dovish, and I emphasize very, very Dovish in their world view, and the majority of Israel’s combat pilots are also very Dovish.

And, their worldview has nothing to do with the fact that they are first to be called to serve during wartime, and they serve superbly.

When it comes to President Trump, the perception in Israel is that he is supportive of Israel. The public has accorded him at this point very significant support, unlike the case of the eight years with President Obama – when many Israelis sympathized with him as far as personality is concerned, maybe as it was reflected by television, newspapers, radio – but most Israelis were aware that as far as President Obama was concerned, Israel was not exactly one of his top positive priorities. When it comes to President Trump, the sense is that he does regard the Jewish State as a cardinal, positive element on his agenda.

Gordon: Ambassador, what is the danger of having a Palestinian state adjacent to the Jewish nation of Israel?

Ettinger: When it comes to Israel, the clear and present lethal threat is highlighted at this time of global instability, violence, and intolerance, tenuous agreements, tenuous regimes and policies. With a Palestinian state, Israel would be once again constrained to an eight-to-fifteen mile sliver along the Mediterranean, over-towered and dominated by the mountain ridges of the West Bank of Judea and Samaria. This is not exactly a prescription for long life expectancy. It’s a prescription for suicide, I believe.

But the key point is not what it means for Israel. For your American listeners, the issue is what would the impact be on America’s national security. And Americans should know when it comes to a Palestinian State, based on its track record, we are talking about a definite erosion of America’s authority in the Middle East and definite injury to very important American national security interests. For instance, there is the American-supported Hashemite monarchy in Jordan. A Palestinian State on the one hand and Hashemite regime in Jordan east of the Jordan River constitute an oxymoron.

Top Jordanian military officers made it very clear to their colleagues in Israel that the top priority of the Hashemites  is to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Now the issue is not merely one more, or one less pro- American Arab regime.  A change in regime in Jordan would cause tectonic ripple effects, which would not be limited only to Jordan, but a definite spill- over southward to Saudi Arabia and from Saudi Arabia to the rest of the pro- American  Arab Gulf states.

This means that a Palestinian state could trigger ripple effects all the way into the Persian Gulf area, playing into the hands of Iran, also possibly into the hands of Russia and China and certainly adversely effecting America’s interest. It could create an Iranian block from Iran through Iraq, Jordan, all the way to fifteen miles from the Mediterranean. That  would mean loss of pro- American control of two critical waterways, the Bab el Mandab and Hormuz Straits in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, two of the most critical waterways for oil tankers, which would have an impact on the  global economy and  American economies.

You might also find a guarantee of naval rights, landing rights for the Russian, possibly Iranian, maybe Chinese, naval and air force, in the eastern flank of the Mediterranean, which once again would undermine vital American interests.

All this is based on the track record of Palestinians, which includes the waves of terrorism in the 1920s, 30s, 40s; collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War; collaboration with the USSR after the war; collaboration with Ayatollah Khomeini after the demise of the Shah of Iran; and very close ties with Russia, North Korea, China, Cuba, and Venezuela.

Bates: Ambassador  Ettinger there was a recent  The Wall Street Journal op-ed by Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz of the Washington DC based Foundation for Defense of Democracies drew attention to the possibility of Israel asserting sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Why did Israel annex the Golan Heights in 1981 and what geo-political and national security significance does it have given the threats on the frontier from Iran’s proxy Hezbollah and Syrian Islamic opposition  and ISIS?

 Ettinger: First of all, the Golan Heights is not foreign terrain for the Jewish state. The Golan Heights is part of the Jewish homeland going back some 3,500 years .  As far as contemporary strategy is concerned, there are only two options when it comes Golan: will it be part of Israel, controlled by Israel; or will it be a platform for rogue organizations, rogue regimes. There is no other option, although again in the wishful la-la land of some western policymakers, one could transform it into an international, neutral area.  Certainly when you look at the Middle East there is no such thing as a neutral element or neutral space.

As far as the impact of the Golan Heights, once again on the region as a whole and on Israel. One can go back to 1970 when Syria was a major military Arab power, Syria invaded Jordan. With the US bogged down in Southeast Asia, there was no way it could stretch military hand and help the pro- American late King Hussain. They called Israel. Israel mobilized its troops and the following day – without firing a single shot, only through the posture of deterrence of the presence of Israel – the Syrian military withdrew back to Syria. That was possible because Israel controlled the Golan Heights in 1970, which meant we were at the point where we could reach Damascus and basically take over Syria.

Should Israel be off the Golan Heights, and once again there is violence which threatens pro-American Arab regime in Jordan, without the Golan (and certainly there would already be a Palestinian state), Israel would be in no position, have no power to exert any posture of deterrence to assist the US, assist pro-American Arab regimes. We are talking today about the proliferation of Islamic terrorist organizations, many of which operate in Syria, which means with proximity to the Golan Heights and should Israel get off Golan Heights, the only question would be: which rogue regime, which rogue organization, will then control the Golan Heights.

Bates: There is no question that the Golan Heights are critical to the security of Israel. I made a day trip through Golan Heights when I was in Tiberius a few years ago. It’s beautiful, sparsely populated area.  It is of  massive strategic importance. Why doesn’t the United States recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel’s sovereign territory and is there any chance that will change under a Trump presidency?

Ettinger: It’s true that Golan Heights is critical for Israel’s national security, but it’s also true that it is  very important for America’s own national security, America’s own posture of deterrence in the Middle East.  Israel on the Golan Heights, Israel on the mountain ridges of Judea Samaria extends the strategic hand of the USA. With Israel off the Golan Heights and certainly off the mountain ridges of the West Bank, Israel is going to be transformed from a national security asset to a national security liability and a burden on the US. And the US is facing, in my mind, intensifying, and not reduced, threats due to the current trends in the Middle East and throughout the world. The US cannot rely on Europe which has lost its will power gradually – and is also losing its muscle. Israel is the only element in the Middle East upon which the US can rely. It is probably the most effective force anywhere in the world upon which the US can rely on.

Bates: No, question about it Ambassador.

Gordon: Ambassador, what is behind Israel’s emergence as a world leader in high tech global investments and its impact on the country’s economy?

 Ettinger: Out of necessity, due to the attempt to strangle Israel territorially, militarily, economically; due to various attempts to boycott and sanction Israel; and due to real lack of natural resources, Israel had to rely on its brain power. We have managed not only to survive but we have managed to develop – I would say next to the US – a major global, high tech technological country, both commercially and militarily. Today, in Israel, we have 250 research and development centers operated by global high tech giants, most of them American, some European. These are the centers that develop for Intel and Microsoft, and Apple and Google, and other giants, the latest innovative technologies. Israel contributes to research and development in America, to the competitiveness of American industries in the global competition, and to America’s foundation of employment.

Bates: It is a huge benefit, Ambassador. We have been speaking with Jerry  Gordon of the New English Review and its blog the Iconoclast and  with Ambassador Yoram Ettinger.  You can find Ambassador Ettinger online at www.theettingerreport.com.

Thanks so much for joining us this afternoon on 1330amWEBY

Listen to the broadcast, here.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Why the US Accusations Against Israeli Intelligence are Wrong

For the past two days there are have been a spate of articles triggered by  Newsweek contributing editor, Jeff Stein, who wrote a Spy Talk column with accusations alleging that Israeli Intelligence are operating in the US is at “alarming levels,” “Israel won’t stop spying on the US”. Stein’s accusations:

U.S. intelligence officials are saying—albeit very quietly, behind closed doors on Capitol Hill—that our Israeli “friends” have gone too far with their spying operations here.

According to classified briefings on legislation that would lower visa restrictions on Israeli citizens, Jerusalem’s efforts to steal U.S. secrets under the cover of trade missions and joint defense technology contracts have “crossed red lines.”

This despite a long term valued collaboration by US defense intelligence agencies with Israel. Stein’s anonymous sources appear to paint all Israelis as potential spies.

Stein’s allegations were immediately slammed by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and an Israeli Embassy official in Washington. The Jewish Press noted:

First of all, these are malicious accusations. . . I would not agree to any spying on the United States, not in any form, directly or indirectly.

Israeli Embassy spokesperson Aaron Sagui also flatly denied the charges, telling Newsweek, “Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period. We condemn the fact that such outrageous, false allegations are being directed against Israel.

The Stein accusations come amidst strains in the relations between the Administration and Israel over the collapse of the failed final status agreements with the Palestinian Authority. This was reflected in Ynet interviews with an unidentified “senior US official” many believe to be former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. The Ynet reports suggested that the US might impose its own terms on both the PA newly unified with Hamas and Israel.

Moreover, tensions between Washington and Jerusalem have increased over the latter’s criticism of the P5+1 talks with Iran over curtailment of its nuclear program. That may be part of the agenda that National Security Advisor Susan Rice brought yesterday for discussions with the Netanyahu government. Those intelligence red line accusations may be behind the tightening of visas for visiting Israelis. This sudden swirl triggered by the Stein  piece in Newsweek has led to an unidentified senior Israeli diplomatic official suggesting in a Ynereport that the accusation may have been “tainted by a whiff of anti-Semitism.” That is reflected in Stein’s Newsweek Spy Talk column interviews with former CIA officials resurrecting the rogue Israeli intelligence operation involving imprisoned American spy Jonathan Pollard.

Jeff Stein appears to be touting a line perpetrated by a former FBI intelligence director, David Szady, back in the middle part of the last decade that there was an Israeli mole or moles borrowing into our national security establishment based on the Pollard conviction for spying. Just recall the FBI sting operation against former Defense analyst Larry Franklin at DoD used against the two former AIPAC senior staffers. Rosen and Weissman were falsely accused. A Federal Judge dismissed the wrongful prosecution brought as a result of Szady’s false accusations. I wrote about this eight years ago in an Israpundit article: “Are we all Jonathan Pollards, now?”

An AFP article, based on Stein’s Newsweek column cites unidentified former Congressional aides in his report said:

. . .  a congressional staffer familiar with a briefing last January called the testimony “very sobering … alarming … even terrifying”, and quoted another as saying the behavior was “damaging.”

“No other country close to the United States continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do,” said a former congressional staffer who attended another classified briefing in late 2013, according to Newsweek.

It said that briefing was one of several in recent months given by the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the FBI and the National Counterintelligence Directorate.

The former congressional staffer said the intelligence agencies did not give specifics, but cited “industrial espionage—folks coming over here on trade missions or with Israeli companies working in collaboration with American companies, [or] intelligence operatives being run directly by the government, which I assume meant out of the [Israeli] Embassy.”

Israel’s espionage activities in America are unrivaled and go far beyond activities by other close allies, such as Germany, France, Britain and Japan, counter-intelligence agents told members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees,.

“I don’t think anyone was surprised by these revelations,” the former aide was quoted as saying.

“But when you step back and hear … that there are no other countries taking advantage of our security relationship the way the Israelis are for espionage purposes, it is quite shocking”.

A 2011 Los Angeles Times op-ed by Robert D. Blackwill and Walter B. Slocombe, “Israel: A True Ally in the Middle East” noted:

Counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation is deep and extensive, with the United States and Israel working to advance their common interest in defeating the terrorism of Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda and its affiliate groups, and preventing nuclear proliferation in the region. There are joint Special Forces training and exercises and collaboration on shared targets.

This intimate relationship reinforces overall U.S. intelligence efforts by providing Washington with access to Israel’s unique set of capabilities for information collection and assessments on key countries and issues in the region. Such was the case, for example, when Israel passed to the United States conclusive photographic evidence in 2007 that Syria, with North Korean assistance, had made enormous strides toward “going hot” with a plutonium-producing reactor.

Slocombe was Undersecretary for Defense Policy at the Pentagon during the Clinton era, while Blackwill served as a diplomat during several Republican Administrations. Their comments in the Los Angeles Times report was drawn from a paper published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A Tablet article cited  the authors’ views  in the paper at the time on the extensive Israeli contributions to US national security:

The paper offers chapter and verse on Israeli contributions to the U.S. national interest. They include: Israeli counter-proliferation efforts, such as the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility and the 2007 attack on Syria’s secret nuclear facility at al-Kibar; joint military training exercises, as well as exchanges on military doctrine; Israeli technology, like unmanned aerial systems, armored vehicle protection, defense against short-range rocket threats, and robotics; missile defense cooperation; counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation; and cyber defense. Blackwill and Slocombe conclude that the alliance is in fact so central to U.S. national interests that U.S. policymakers should find ways to further enhance cooperation with Jerusalem.

Fast forward to 2014. Stein’s Spy Talk column indicates that something sinister is going on in the Washington intelligence community. That Israel, globally recognized  as an acknowledged leader in high tech in both civilian and military applications, needed  to spy on US industrial developments. Doesn’t square. Stein’s anonymous sources on Capitol Hill and in the FBI, CIA, State Department and Homeland Security may be reflecting the Administration’s pique at Israel’s asserting its sovereign right to defend the Jewish nation. A Jewish nation with Jihadist threats ranging on all of its borders seeking its destruction.

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EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.