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Friday, July 24, 2015

On Mutual Interests




On Mutual Interests

Jonathan Pollard.

There, I said it: The two most uncomfortable words for American Jews. Let me say it again:

Jonathan Pollard. Jonathan Pollard. Jonathan Pollard. JONATHAN POLLARD!!!

For those who argue that U.S. and Israeli policies are or should be in perfect alignment, one need merely cite these two frightening words - the Jewish Voldemort, the "He Who Shall Not Ne Named" of the current and previous generation as a reminder that US and Israeli interests are not always in alignment.

There is no more notorious nor controversial contemporary American Jewish persona than Jonathan Pollard (no, not even Woody Allen or Shmuley Boteach or Amy Schumer or Ari Mandel). To this day, he remains in a secure prison for spying against the U.S. The good news, of course, is that he gets free cable, and as much time to study Toirah or surf porn as he wants.

To this day, there is debate over whether he was a hero, a villain, or a fall guy. He is the elephant in the room, the uncomfortable fact that everyone wants to forget but cannot. He is the criminally insane grandfather that you want to hide from your date before you “close the deal”, if you know what I mean…

So, what were his crimes? That itself is subject to debate.

There are those who believe him a hero who uncovered secret military documents of security relevance to Israel that were meant to be shared with Israel based on a mutual security pact and yet were not. In this narrative, Pollard committed an act of conscience, fulfilling an American commitment not met by the Reagan administration, the US administration at the time.

Those who believe him a villain point to the fact that the information passed to the Israeli government was done so at a price of tens of thousands of dollars. What hero requests payment? He sounds more like a Shnorer collecting for a yeshivah that has more Rabbeihim than Talmidim.

And those that consider him a cad suggest that the information he provided was unsolicited and valueless, that the U.S. was in full compliance with its commitments, that Pollard offered information to other countries – not just Israel, and that Pollard himself created the “spy network” by tempting the Israeli government of the day, a violation of the Biblical injunction of "Lifnei Iver Loi Sisain Michshol", “do not place a stumbling block before a blind man”.

There are even those who believe that the information provided had nothing to do with national security issues. According to this narrative, Pollard’s real crime was that he stole the secret formula for Crabby Patties or Coca Cola or McDonalds fries or the Colonel's special batter recipe at KFC. These are crimes that could potentially impact every American, as they would enable Israel to drastically catch up in the global obesity race.

To my friends who believe that the Republican Party is closely aligned with the long term security needs and aspirations of the State of Israel, I will remind you that Pollard was arrested during the Reagan Administration, charged - perhaps singled out for example - by Republican Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and not pardoned or released by Presidents Reagan, Bush I or Bush II.

To my Democratic friends, I will remind you that Pollard rotted away in prison despite Oslo I, Oslo II, and the failed negotiations at Camp David where Israel offered the Palestinians a state with a shared capital in Jerusalem, all under Democratic President Clinton. And Pollard remains in Prison under Democratic President Obama.

Both major Israeli political parties were complicit in the Pollard affair, which occurred during the rotational shared government between Likud and Labor, Labor and Likud between 1984 and 1988.

Everyone is guilty in the Pollard affair.

And yet the public remains largely unaware of the exact crimes of Pollard. Some Israelis believe that he is a "Prisoner of Zion" and pray for his return alongside soldiers who disappeared in action in Lebanon and Gaza. I have even attended synagogues in the US where his name is mentioned in prayer alongside Israeli MIAs. I personally find the comparison offensive, but who am I to disagree with a Gabbai? I mean... There is no greater abuser of authority in a Shul than a Gabbai.... unless, of course, it is Barry Freundel's Kehillah.


So why do I raise the thirty year old unresolved mess that is the Jonathan Pollard affair? Because I can think of no more potent example of clear misalignment between American and Israeli security interests at a time when we are all discussing the failures and/ or merits of the nuclear treaty with Iran.

Once the treaty was announced, there was a grand voice raised by much of Klal Yisroel - a seeming unity. It is a charge led by the Israeli Prime Minister, with much of the Jewish community, especially in the Orthodox community and in AIPAC circles falling in line like Lubavitchers waiting to get a dollar from the Rebbe. The last time Jews got this upset was when there was a one day, two-for-one sale on Taleisim at Macy's on Yom Kippur.

The facts of the matter are as follows:

- For years, Iran was perceived as being ten years away from a nuclear bomb, five years away, and then two years away.

- The Iranians upped their achievements in nuclear development in the 2000s, coinciding with the fall of Saddam Hussein, who was the despot and distraction on Iran’s western border. Without this historical enemy on its border, Iran was freed to focus more fully on its nuclear program. Thanks, Dick Cheney!

- In the late 2000s Iran came close to achieving the capacity to develop a bomb. Israel advocated and threatened a military solution, and Prime Minister Netanyahu came out explicitly against economic sanctions.

- The Iranian nuclear program was delayed by several “mysterious” occurrences, including the Stuxnet virus that caused severe damage to Iran’s centrifuges, and the assassinations – even within Iran – of several key Iranian nuclear scientists.

- As the economic sanctions took their toll, and Iran cheated on several commitments, negotiations began in earnest, resulting in the current agreement.

So how should a Ben Toirah like you think about this agreement?

The pundits in the US are split, largely along partisan lines. In Israel, the political echelon has largely come out against the agreement, but they are not the only voices to be heard.

In favor of the agreement: Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet security service; Amos Yadlin, the former chief of Israeli Military Intelligence; Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, the former chief of Israeli military arms technology division, current chair of the Israel Space Agency, and a two time winner of the Israel Prize, Israel’s highest honor; former head of the Mossad Efraim Halevy, and others.

Against the agreement: Prime Minister Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu; Opposition Leader Yitzhak (“Buji”) Herzog; SHAS Leader Rabbi Aryeh (“Ex-Con”) Deri; Rabbi Morris Goldberg of the Young Israel of East Hempstead; and Bessie Rabinowitz, 102 years young, living in the Palm Springs Jewish Home For The Young At Heart.

Clearly, none of the issues associated with the Iran nuclear deal are simple. There are fundamental concerns about ensuring Iranian compliance and the long term direction of the Iranian regime. These are critical questions which will ultimately determine the success or failure of the deal.

However, this is where we need to keep in mind the alignment of mutual interests between Israel and the United States.

What are Israel’s interests vis a vis the Iran nuclear agreement? What are the US’s? What are the Saudis’? What are the interests of the other parties to the agreement – The Germans, French, British, Russians, etc.?

While many voices are screaming out that Israel faces an existential threat, is that indeed accurate? And is that exact threat shared by the US and the other players?

Israel and Saudi Arabia are situated in the Middle East, while the other players have extensive interests in the stability of the Middle East, for both geopolitical and economic reasons. The Europeans are in fact no less in striking distance of an Iranian missile than Israel is.

When the Iranians take to the streets shouting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”, does that in fact imply that the existential threat to each country is equal? Absolutely not. Does the United States have thousands or Iranian supplied conventional missiles on its northern border aimed at its population centers the way that Israel does? Not unless Canada has overnight been taken over by Hezbollah.

Consequently, the alignment of interests between Israel and the Unites States is in fact limited. And it is critical that we understand this reality in order to understand our leverage and influence a favorable outcome.

So when Prime Minister Netanyahu opposed sanctions several years ago and pushed for military intervention, he was essentially asking the United States to launch a war on Israel’s behalf. And when the US instead decided to launch sanctions, and, later, negotiations with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu chose to take an oppositional stance to any arrangement, rather than provide collaborative input. And when Prime Minister Netanyahu pretty much endorsed Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, against President Obama, he shifted Israel from being a bi-partisan issue in Congress to becoming a Republican versus Democratic issue. And when Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, an American born former Republican operative, arranged for Netanyahu to be invited to address Congress by the Republican Majority Leader without consulting the White House, circumventing standard diplomatic protocol whereby it is the Executive Branch that extends such invitations to heads of state, he built upon the already tense relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu by even more closely aligning the cause of Israel with the Republican Party. And when Prime Minister Netanyahu got up in front of Congress and attacked the plans of the President of the United States to the cheers of the Republican Party, he solidified even more the alignment between Israel and the Republican Party.

But that alignment is a fiction. Because the mutual interests of Israel and the United States – whether the US has a Republican or a Democratic administration – can never be in full alignment.

And if you do not believe me, just ask Jonathan Pollard.


So how should we relate to the Iran nuclear deal?

What is certainly clear is that the key to success is Iranian compliance. And the United States and the other parties to the agreement must work to ensure compliance in order to achieve the objectives of setting back the Iranian nuclear program by at least ten years, essentially turning back the clock to where it was prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein.

And what should be Israel’s role? Israel needs to have a seat at the table to influence the monitoring and compliance of Iran. And in order to do that, Israel must itself step back from being positioned as a partisan player in Washington, and return to being a bipartisan issue supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

Israel should be involved in the negotiations, at least in the background. For example, Israeli should lend technical expertise to enforcement. It should also contribute to the demands, for example, heavy water and nuclear material shipped out of the country should also include a large delivery of handmade Persian Carpets. Perhaps the non-military ties can include cultural exchanges, for example, an exchange program between the Mullahs and the Ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Instead of Reagan’s “Arms for Hostages” deal, it can be a “Turbans for Shtreimels” deal. And if that is too aggressive, the Mullahs can simply be exchanged with representatives of the SHAS party, since their leaders already wear turbans.


The fact of the matter is that in the absence of a military strike, which itself would have high casualties and not be assured of success, there is no alternative to a negotiated outcome. Economic sanctions crack over time. But negotiations require compromise, and no one ever likes to compromise. That is why the Iran nuclear deal is opposed by the Iranian hardliners and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard no less than it is opposed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, many Jews and the Republican Party. It is great to see that have at least found something in common.


So if Israel and the United States are not fully aligned and will never be fully aligned, then what is the guarantee of Israel’s long term well-being? As always, Israel is and must remain the master of its own fate. It must make sober decisions in a sober manner, and must refrain from the panic and hyperbole that has been so abundant in recent days.

To quote recent statements from Former Prime Minister, Defense Minister (under Netanyahu), and Military Chief of Staff Ehud Barak, “Israel is not in an apocalyptic situation. We are not in Europe 1938 and not Palestine 1947… Israel can live with whatever happens (in Iran, including the development of nuclear capabilities). We are the strongest state in the Middle East, militarily, strategically, economically — and diplomatically, if we’re not foolish.”

And what would foolish behavior look like? Ummm… Just ask Jonathan Pollard.


Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess


Anonymous said...

AS usual, beautifully written.

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