Amid shifting U.S. policy on Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time publicly lobbied the United States to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan.
(January 9, 2019 / JNS) In a joint press conference with U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that the Golan Heights “is tremendously important for our security … we will never leave the Golan Heights … it is important that all countries recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” It was a rare moment in which Netanyahu publicly asked a U.S. administration official to officially recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Dennis Ross, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former adviser to Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, told JNS that Netanyahu’s request “might be understandable given the context of Bolton’s trip but is unlikely to draw a favorable response from the administration in advance of presenting the president’s peace plan. The White House is seeking Arab support for the plan and probably not looking to take steps that might make it harder for Arab states to be responsive.”
Ross placed the issue of recognition and Bolton’s visit in a larger context. He told JNS that Bolton’s trip is about reassuring Israel about the president’s decision to withdraw from Syria.
“I hope the Iranian emplacement of missiles on Syrian bases is being raised by the prime minister with an eye to coordinating an approach on this issue at least with the Russians,” he said. “The Russians want the U.S. out of Syria, and the question is whether it is possible to get the Russians to pressure [Syrian President Bashar] Assad not to permit Iranian missiles on Syrian bases prior to our withdrawal.”
Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War after Syria and other Arab nations attacked the Jewish state. In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights. Since then, the United States and the broader international community have refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the region.
But there has been some movement in Israel’s direction. In November, the United States opposed for the first time the annual U.N. resolution calling on Israel to relinquish the Golan Heights. Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley declared, “The United States will no longer abstain when the United Nations engages in its useless annual vote on the Golan Heights. The resolution is plainly biased against Israel.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently in Jordan as part of a larger Middle East tour to allay fears that America is abandoning the Middle East, as well as to stress that the central threats to the region are Iran and ISIS.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, told Pompeo on Tuesday: “International law regarding the Golan Heights is clear. Israel must withdraw from the region.”
How much political capital should go into it?
Netanyahu isn’t alone in his belief that the United States should finally recognize Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights.
Last May, the House of Representatives debated a similar resolution. Then-Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) introduced a resolution asking Congress to recognize the Golan Heights as belonging to Israel. That measure was never adopted.
And this week, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas issued a joint statement calling on the administration to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. According to a statement on Cruz’s website, “In the last Congress Sens. Cruz and Cotton introduced S.Res.732, a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the United States should recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
The resolution Cotton and Cruz introduced in mid-December of last year urged the Senate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The resolution stated that the United States would support Israel’s right to defend itself, that it is in the United States’ national security interest to ensure Israel’s security, and that Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would ensure that the Assad regime “faces diplomatic and geopolitical consequences for the killing of civilians, the ethnic cleansing of Syrian Sunnis and the use of weapons of mass destruction.”
This week’s statement went on to affirm that “responding to the threat posed by Iran and its proxies requires ensuring that Israel can defend its territory and its citizens from attacks. To support Israel’s right to self-defense, Washington should take the long overdue step of affirming Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security has a different approach. He told JNS that “the Americans might [recognize Israeli sovereignty] as they see Syria divided among Assad, the Russians, Turkey and Iran.”
“I am not sure we should spend much political capital on this issue,” he added. “After all, the Golan is in our hands since ’67, more years than the Syrians ruled the area. Who can change this strategically important fact?
“Any American recognition will not have the same resonance as moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” acknowledged Inbar. “What we should do is double the Jewish population in the Golan. What counts most is facts on the ground and not political declarations.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar’s excuses attacking Israel by saying she attacks Saudi Arabia, too
New Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has been outspoken against the Israeli government for years. Some of her public condemnations including calling Israel evil and claiming they’ve “hypnotized the world.” But Israel is an ally to the United States and her role in the House of Representatives will put her position to affect change on our relationship.
Her excuse for attacking Israel is that she also attacks Saudi Arabia.
“I say the same things if not worse when it comes to the Saudi government,” she said. “I’ve called for boycotts of hajj, and boycotts of Saudi Arabia, because to me it is important when you see oppression taking place – when you see regression – when you see our values being attacked as humans, you must stand up, and it doesn’t matter who the inhabiters of that particular region might be.”
It wasn’t just Omar that is concerning. The narrative being formed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour was equally discouraging. How she framed the relationship between AIPAC and the U.S. government was thinly veiled spite towards the Jewish group.
“There’s generally sort of a rite of passage for politicians in the United States, and that is to sort of profess sort of fealty or at least pay homage to AIPAC, the pro-Israel PAC that is very, very prominent,” she said.
I won’t even try to deconstruct that silly statement.
As our EIC pointed out, Omar’s perspectives are a real concern on the foreign relations front:
Radical progressivism isn't just about Medicare-for-All and open borders. Our foreign relations, particularly our alliance with Israel, is in jeopardy if the far left continues to take over the Democratic Party. Here's one of their newest representatives in the House. Scary. https://t.co/bHNwKJZ0d6
— JD Rucker (@JDRucker) January 17, 2019
There is no room for bigotry of any kind in the House of Representatives. We need to watch closely as she toes the line between calling out the nation of Israel for what she perceives as offenses and actual antisemitism, which often follows.
Iran and the Taliban: A tactical alliance?
However, the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the fear of a resurgent ISIS in Afghanistan, and water issues have prompted Tehran to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. This tactical alliance will enable Iran to further expand its influence in Afghanistan.
(January 15, 2019 / JNS) Iran and the Taliban have long had their ups and downs. In 1998, the two sides nearly came to a direct clash when Taliban forces killed Iranian diplomats, though the incident ended without a major conflict. However, the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the fear of a resurgent ISIS in Afghanistan, and water issues have prompted Tehran to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. This tactical alliance will enable Iran to further expand its influence in Afghanistan.
Iran has had covert contacts with the Taliban, the most dangerous terror group in Afghanistan, for many years. But recently, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), went public with the relationship, claiming that contacts had been made with the aim of “curbing the security problems in Afghanistan.”
The announcement came as a surprise not because the public was unaware of Iran’s secret relations with the Taliban, but because Tehran has always tried to keep its ties to terror groups an “open secret” in an attempt to maintain plausible deniability. Why did Tehran decide to go public about the Taliban connection now?
A review of the relationship’s history may help to explain the mullahs’ thinking. Relations between Iran and the Taliban have long had their ups and downs. During the period of Taliban rule, Iran saw the group as a threat to its interests. The two sides almost came to a direct clash in September 1998, when Taliban forces kidnapped and killed nine Iranian diplomats and one journalist in the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) vowed revenge and prepared to launch an all-out attack. But the crisis ended without a major clash, perhaps due to the fear that Islamabad would retaliate in support of the Taliban or that Afghanistan might become a quagmire for Iranian forces similar to that experienced by the Soviet Union in 1979-89.
The 2001 US-led military operation that led to the collapse of Taliban rule prompted the Iranian leadership to reconsider its original calculation and recalibrate its approach. It welcomed high-level Taliban figures who escaped to Iran (e.g., Abdul Qayum Zakir and Mullah Naim Barich) and began extending support to Taliban fighters.
While the two sides are on different ends of the religious spectrum, Tehran views the Taliban as a useful point of leverage against the US. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO force composed of American, British, Canadian, and other troops, was created by the UN in 2002 and tasked with training the fledgling Afghan army and protecting the government of Hamid Karzai and his successor, Ashraf Ghani. The Iranian regime viewed the ISAF with concern, as it feared the US might use Afghanistan as a base from which to launch a kinetic attack on Iran. The Taliban insurgency thus became viewed by Tehran as a tool with which to keep American forces preoccupied.
To assist in the Taliban’s fighting of the ISAF, Iran allowed the Afghan terror group to open an office in Tehran and invited its leaders to attend a two-day International Islamic Unity Conference held by the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought in Tehran.
Iran’s support for the Taliban did not terminate even when President Barack Obama assured the mullahs that the military option was no longer official US policy towards Iran. Intelligence reports indicate that Tehran’s military and financial support for the Taliban has in fact escalated ever since. Afghan military officials have accused the Revolutionary Guards of providing military, financial, and logistical support to the terror group, to the extent that Tehran’s support enabled the Taliban to capture districts in western Afghanistan, including the provinces of Farah and Ghor, and the Taywara district. There are also reports indicating that Quds Force operatives had a “physical presence” in Ghor assisting Taliban fighters in their offensive against the central government.
Fighting ISAF was only one of the goals of the Quds Force in Afghanistan. Drug smuggling from Afghanistan to Iran has been a profitable business for the Quds Force, which is known for its extensive ties to drug cartels in South America. In 2012, the US Department of the Treasury (DOT) designated Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Baghbani, the chief of the Quds Force in the Zahedan office, a narcotics trafficker. The DOT document noted that in return for Iranian business, Afghan traffickers moved weapons to the Taliban.
Financial incentives aside, the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan – especially in provinces that border Iran, such as Herat, Farah, and Nimruz – rattled the Iranian regime, prompting the leadership to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. Unlike al Qaeda and the more malleable Taliban, the radical anti-Shiite ISIS poses a real threat to Iran’s interests in Afghanistan. Providing better training for the Taliban was thus not only a way to undermine the American-led ISAF, but a barrier to a new ISIS caliphate across the Afghan border.
Various reports indicate that the IRGC created a training camp in South Khorasan province (Khorasan Jonobi) to train Taliban fighters, providing them with weapons and explosives. The Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (Komite Emdad Imam Khomeini) in the same province is said to be donating untold amounts of capital to the terror group in addition to calling for volunteers to fight alongside Taliban forces.
Some observers have directly linked improvements in the Taliban’s performance, and ISIS’s consequent inability to establish a strong foothold in Afghanistan, to Iranian support. Since mid-2017, Taliban and ISIS forces have regularly clashed in eastern Nangarhar province, with the Taliban easily defeating ISIS thanks to the military support it has received from the Quds Force. As one commentator put it, the “scale, quality, and length of training is unprecedented and marks not only a shift in the proxy war between the United States and Iran in Afghanistan but also a potential change in Iran’s ability and will to affect the outcome of the Afghan war.”
Other commentators have noted that Iran’s backing of the Taliban’s assaults on government forces were linked to water issues. Iran has been attempting to enable the Taliban to derail energy projects that are currently under construction, namely the Poze Lich Hydropower plant in Ghor, and the Bakhshabad and Salma dams in the neighboring province of Farah and Herat, respectively. The construction of these dams, which would massively boost local energy and water supplies, is not acceptable to Iran. On July 5, 2017, President Hassan Rouhani declared that Iran “cannot remain indifferent to the issue [water dams], which will damage our environment.” According to Rouhani, “construction of several dams in Afghanistan would affect Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchistan provinces,” and Tehran “is not going to stand idly by.”
It is worthy of note that the publicizing by Iran of its ties to the Taliban came days after reports appeared on talks between the US and the Taliban over proposals for a ceasefire in Afghanistan. Iran is sending a message to Washington and Kabul that if its concerns are not addressed, it can sabotage any attempt at a permanent peace in Afghanistan. Certainly, given Iran’s ties to the Taliban and the new regional arrangements (i.e., Trump’s decision to withdraw half of US forces from Afghanistan), Iran will be able to further expand its political, economic, and sectarian influence in that country.
Dr. Farhad Rezaei is a member of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) in Washington, DC and the co-author of Iran, Israel, and the United States: The Politics of Counter-Proliferation Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield, NY). @Farhadrezaeii
New IDF chief Kochavi: The army is ready for any mission
• Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi becomes 22nd chief of staff in ceremony at Kirya military headquarters
• IDF “expresses what is best in the people,” he says
• PM: “You are carrying a heavy responsibility. The goal is clear – to retain superiority over our enemies.”
(January 15, 2019 / JNS) The leadership of the Israel Defense Forces passed from former Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot to Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi in a formal ceremony at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kochavi’s wife, Yael, pinned his new insignia on his uniform.
In his first speech as IDF chief, Kochavi said, “I am taking on this role with awe, and see it as a privilege.”
“I am making a commitment to put all my energy into a lethal, efficient, and innovative army that can meet its goals. The army expresses what is best in the people. It is ready for every mission and is all about victory. The IDF has used its long arm to eradicate threats,” Kochavi said.
Netanyahu said, “Our mission for the security of Israel must not encounter obstacles. We have worked to keep those who want to kill us from getting stronger … The stronger we are, the bigger our chances for peace.
“Muslim countries understand that we aren’t the enemy, but rather a source of support,” he said.
The prime minister wished Eizenkot success in civilian life.
Addressing Kochavi directly, Netanyahu said, “You are carrying the heavy responsibility of making sure that the IDF fulfills its missions. The goal is clear – to ensure that we retain our superiority over our enemies. We will guarantee an iron fist against our enemies, near and far.
“In the next decade, we will complete an active [defense system] that will cover the entire country. We need to add more to the defense budget to protect what we have achieved with the economy. There is no substitute for our sons’ and daughters’ determination to stand up for their country. We aren’t seeking needless wars, but in necessary ones, we will be forced to make sacrifices,” Netanyahu said.
Eisenkot also spoke at the ceremony, calling his own 40 years of IDF service a “mission.”
“I saw it as a responsibility to bring every soldier home alive. Every day, we are tested in fighting our enemies. I am leaving a trained, prepared, and powerful army that has bolstered its power through insight and determination, and which has proved that victory is a foremost value,” Eizenkot said.
“As an army of the people, we must do everything to protect the IDF’s place as a central point of national consensus,” he added.
Following the ceremony at the Kirya, the Kochavis were due to visit the President’s Residence in Jerusalem for a lunch with President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama. While in Jerusalem, there were also set to visit the Western Wall and the Mt. Herzl National Hall of Remembrance. Later Tuesday, Kochavi was scheduled to return to Tel Aviv for an honor guard for the outgoing chief of staff at the Kirya military headquarters and a toast in his new office.
Kochavi was born in Kiryat Bialik, outside Haifa. His mother was a phys ed instructor and his father owned a shop. In 1982, Kochavi volunteered for the IDF Paratroops Brigade, and he was made commander of the paratroopers in 2001, a position he held during Operation Defensive Shield in 2003.
Kochavi adopted the tactic of using sledgehammers to break the walls of homes during house-to-house raids so troops could avoid getting trapped in terrorist ambushes.
Later, Kochavi was made commander of the Gaza Division, which he oversaw during Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit on the Gaza border in 2006. An investigative committee convened to probe Schalit’s abduction found no fault with the chain of command at the time of the incident.
In 2010, Kochavi became head of Military Intelligence. Kochavi was head of Military Intelligence during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014, after which he came under harsh criticism over the state of the IDF’s intelligence before the operation was launched. Kochavi was also accused of having failed to detect and address the terror tunnels dug by Hamas beneath the Gaza border.
In November 2014, Kochavi was made GOC Northern Command. One of the important initiatives he introduced was the IDF’s “good neighbor” policy, in which Israel provided humanitarian aid and emergency medical care to Syrians near the border. During his tenure at the Northern Command, the IDF also began tracking tunnels that Hezbollah was digging underneath the Israel-Lebanon border.
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