News Roundup for October 16, 2017

October 16, 2017

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J Street in the News

Trump Calls Iran Nuclear Deal ‘Unacceptable,’ But Leaves U.S. In It For Now, NPR

“Supporters of the nuclear deal, both inside and outside the U.S., are now focusing on Congress in an effort to preserve the agreement. ‘The facts are clear: The Iran nuclear agreement is working as intended,’ Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the moderate pro-Israel group J Street, said in a statement… ‘The president is acting based on his own personal political agenda, distaste for diplomacy, and contempt for his predecessor. Congress should see this decision for what it is: a reckless mistake that makes it harder, not easier, to confront Iran and prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.’”

Trump Will ‘Decertify’ The Iran Deal, Punt The Issue To Congress, HuffPost

“Trump’s plan ‘seems to be predicated on the erroneous belief that getting Congress to unilaterally legislate new terms for the agreement will convince Iran and the other parties to capitulate to U.S. demands in exchange for no new benefits,’ Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the progressive pro-Israel group J Street, said in a statement. ‘This gambit risks not only putting the U.S. in breach of the agreement. It also aligns our European allies with Iran in defense of the deal thereby slashing U.S. leverage in any additional diplomatic efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear activities,’ Ben-Ami added.”

Did Netanyahu Help Torpedo the Iran Deal — Two Years Ago?, Forward

“‘It was bad enough that the prime minister intervened in 2015 in such a blunt and partisan manner in an internal American policy debate,’ Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, told me. ‘His continued efforts to undermine the deal in 2017 are potentially even more damaging.’ ‘Today, he is going against the opinion not only of the majority of Jewish and other Americans,’ Ben Ami went on. ‘He is clearly going against the consensus of both the U.S. and Israeli security establishments. Today, even more U.S. lawmakers support keeping the agreement than supported its approval in 2015.’”

Trump’s Baseless Decertification of Iran Deal is Dangerous; Congress Must Maintain the Agreement, J Street

“The president is acting based on his own personal political agenda, distaste for diplomacy and contempt for his predecessor. Congress should see this decision for what it is: A mistake that makes it harder, not easier, to confront Iran, prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons and deter its malign activities in the region. Lawmakers must not violate the nuclear agreement by reimposing nuclear sanctions – or take any other legislative action that would undermine the deal. Doing so would isolate the US, empower Iran and potentially put us on the path to another unnecessary and destructive war in the Middle East. Killing the JCPOA would also increase the threat to Israel – which is why the majority of the Israeli security establishment believes the agreement should be maintained. Working alongside our many partners in a broad coalition of advocates and activists, J Street will do everything that we can to urge Congress to uphold this vital agreement, and to defeat any efforts to undermine it.”

US Withdrawal from UNESCO Undermines US and Israeli Interests, Abdicates Leadership, J Street

“The decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from full US membership in UNESCO is deeply misguided and will only serve to undermine the interests of both the United States and Israel. This is just the latest demonstration of the Trump administration’s contempt for international institutions and its full-fledged retreat from American leadership on the world stage. While UNESCO’s member states have a long history of passing resolutions biased against Israel, US withdrawal will do nothing to address these problems. On the contrary, it will simply remove remaining US leverage and influence, further undermining the interests of the US and our allies and empowering those that oppose them.”

Top News and Analysis

Trump sets new conditions for U.S. to stay in Iran nuclear deal, tossing issue to Congress, Washington Post

President Trump on Friday officially disavowed the international nuclear deal with Iran, undermining but not terminating an agreement he called weak and poorly constructed. The administration asked Congress to attach new caveats that could either alter the pact or lead to its rupture. Sounding frustrated and angry, Trump also threatened to unilaterally withdraw from the seven-nation accord if his concerns are not met. “We will not continue down the path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Trump said in remarks delivered at the White House. His decision to withdraw presidential “certification” of the deal throws its future into doubt by tying continued U.S. participation to new requirements for Iran. But the approach also falls well short of Trump’s repeated campaign vow to scrap the deal altogether, marking the latest collision between his “America first” worldview and the realities of global diplomacy and dealmaking.

Trump Defies the World on Iran, New Yorker

Robin Wright observes, “Defying most of the world, President Trump announced on Friday that the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal is no longer in the U.S. interest, and took the first step toward unravelling it. The accord—brokered jointly with Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia, during two years of often tortuous diplomacy—is the most significant agreement stemming proliferation of the world’s deadliest weapon in more than a quarter century. It now faces a precarious future—with the United States, not Iran, shaping up as the first country to violate its terms….Trump’s long-anticipated Iran policy has sweeping implications far beyond Iran. It creates tensions with allies, and China and Russia, as well, that could have a major impact on other global crises. It undermines diplomacy to resolve the escalating showdown with North Korea. It weakens U.S. credibility on arms control—and, for that matter, international agreements on any issue. It threatens U.S. efforts to defuse other flash points in the Middle East. And it risks escalating tensions with Iran—and the first tentative engagement on regional issues, after almost four decades of hostility….Trump’s bellicose speech put Washington on a long-term path toward confrontation with Tehran.”

Trump Alienates America’s Allies and Hands Iran a Victory, The New York Times

Anthony Blinken writes, “By ‘fix’ Mr. Trump means legislation to impose new conditions on Iran beyond the purview of the agreement and to extend its constraints indefinitely. That would put the United States, not Iran, in violation of the agreement and isolate Washington, not Tehran, around the world. It would allow Iran to resume its pursuit of nuclear weapons or to stick with the deal for its economic benefits, forcing the United States to sanction its closest allies for doing business with Tehran. It would provide a ;we told you so’ gift to Iranian hard-liners in their struggle with pragmatists. It would shackle, not advance, Mr. Trump’s ability to sign others on to his broader strategy to confront Iranian aggression. More broadly, it would undermine America’s credibility — and its ability to strike agreements that make the country safer in the future.”

Israeli experts defend the Iran nuclear deal, Boston Globe

George Mitchell writes, “These officials represent a significant swath of the Israeli military and intelligence establishment, and none of them are naive about the threats that Iran continues to pose in their region. Having lived with these threats on their doorstep, their assessment is that this agreement is preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons and is valuable for Israel’s national security and for stability in the Middle East. Most critically, they know that if the United States unilaterally undercuts this agreement, it could put Israel at risk. This is a matter of utmost gravity. President Trump’s unwise decision could enable Iran to resume its nuclear program unfettered, leading to a nuclear arms race or a major and unnecessary war in the Middle East, just as tensions peak in Asia. Every member of Congress should carefully consider all of the evidence, including the statements by Israeli defense and security officials, before they vote on this issue.”


Israel Strikes Deep in Syria After Missile Targets Israeli Air Force Planes Over Lebanon, Haaretz

The Israeli army attacked an anti-aircraft battery in Syria, near Damascus, Monday after it fired a missile targeting Israel Air Force planes. The attack was prompted by the launch of an SA5-type missile at Israeli reconnaissance planes. The Syrian missile did not hit its Israeli targets but the Israel Defense Forces decided to hit the battery, the army said. The army targeted the battery with four bombs and, according to the IDF, the battery was damaged to the extent it was no longer operational. The army said the battery targeted was the same that fired at Israeli jets last March, prompting Israel make use of its Arrow anti-missile system for the first time.

Approach to Iran exposes growing irritation between U.S. and allies, Washington Post

Just before President Trump announced on Friday that he would decertify the Iran nuclear deal, French President Emmanuel Macron called his counterpart in Tehran to offer reassurance, Macron’s office said in a statement. No matter what Trump said, he told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Europe would continue to back the agreement. What has already happened is a widening chasm of mutual disdain between the United States and its traditional allies. Trump sees them as self-interested freeloaders who must be reminded of U.S. power. They see him as an erratic force who must be managed as he squanders American leadership.

Hamas Agreed Not to Carry Out Terror Attacks Against Israel, Palestinian Sources Say, Haaretz

Hamas has agreed not carry out terror attacks or fire rockets against Israel as part of the Palestinian reconciliation deal, the London-based Asharq Alawsat reported on Sunday, citing Palestinian sources. Hamas and Fatah have agreed not take any unilateral actions that could disrupt the new reconciliation deal signed in Cairo last week. This includes any diplomatic steps on the part of the Palestinian Authority concerning Israel, or acts of terror against Israeli targets by Hamas. The agreement reportedly requires Hamas to avoid any action, whether from Gaza or the West Bank, that could trigger a confrontation with Israel.

Tillerson: US trying to stay in Iran deal, CNN

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday the US is trying to stay in the Iran nuclear deal while hoping to achieve more from it, days after President Donald Trump threatened to pull the US out of the agreement. “We’re going to stay in,” Tillerson said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” though he left open the possibility that the US could seek another agreement. “We’re going to work with our European partners and allies to see if we can’t address these concerns,” he added.

U.S. Exit From UNESCO Took Israel by Surprise, Was Uncoordinated, Haaretz

Israel was surprised by the U.S. decision on Thursday to quit UNESCO. Four senior Israeli and American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no coordination with Israel in the days before the decision was announced and that the Trump administration did not tell Israel beforehand. The senior Israeli officials said that in recent months the possibility of the United States leaving the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had come up in talks between Israeli and U.S. diplomats in New York and Paris. They said the issue was also brought up during the June visit to Israel of U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. But the Israeli sources said that at no point did the Americans tell Israel a decision had been made to withdraw. Despite the generally close relations between Israel and the administration of President Donald Trump, the affair exposed a grave lack of coordination between the two countries.

Israel’s Security Cabinet to Discuss Policy Toward Palestinian Reconciliation on Monday, Haaretz
The security cabinet will on Monday discuss Israel’s policy toward the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas and the possibility that the two Palestinian factions will form a unity government. Habayit Hayehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett has been saying that Israel should impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority in response to the reconciliation, but it isn’t clear whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to go that route. During Sunday’s meeting of Likud ministers, Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin raised the issue of the reconciliation agreement and asked Netanyahu what the policy will now be toward relations with the PA. A source who attended the meeting said Netanyahu told Elkin that the issue would be debated by the security cabinet Monday and he removed the item from the agenda.

US launches $10 million water project in West Bank, Times of Israel

The US government on Sunday launched a $10 million project to improve access to wastewater treatment and water for Palestinian farmers in the Jericho area of the West Bank. A top aide to US President Donald Trump, Jason Greenblatt, was among officials launching the project in the historic city near the Dead Sea.

Israeli Government to Form Inquiry Committee Probing Foreign Funding of Left-wing Groups, Haaretz

The heads of Israel’s coalition parties agreed on Sunday to establish a parliamentary committee to probe the funding of left-wing nonprofit organizations by foreign governments, according both to sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to three people who attended the meeting where the decision was made. The party leaders “unanimously decided to support the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry committee on the matter of foreign governments’ involvement in funding political organizations and activities meant to hurt Israeli soldiers,” a source close to Netanyahu said.

Opinions and Analysis

The key to Trump’s Iran plan is his harshest congressional critic, Washington Post

“As the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker has the job of maneuvering through the Senate the Iran legislation he spent eight months hammering out with the White House, the State Department and Republican hawk Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.). Their plan: to freeze Iran’s current “breakout” window for a nuclear weapon at one year, and automatically reimpose economic sanctions if Iran were to narrow that window….It took until just over a month ago to get Trump’s national security team on board with those specifics, Corker said. But he would not say when or if ever the president got on board with the plan. Even on Friday morning, Corker and Trump seemed anything but unified in their approach….Securing the support of Democrats would be impossible without the European parties to the Iran nuclear pact being on board, Corker told reporters, adding that ‘it’s up to the administration to be able to bring our European allies along with us.’….But during his speech, Trump did the opposite of promising to pull his weight to see the deal through. Instead, he issued a threat, saying that if Congress and the European countries couldn’t come up with a plan to further restrain Iran, ‘then the [Iran nuclear] agreement will be terminated . . . our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time.’….Democrats now argue that parts of the GOP proposal may violate the nuclear pact, and they are promising to hold firm against anything that might be perceived as a violation of it.”

Nikki Haley was Trump’s Iran whisperer, Politico

“Haley would become the administration’s most vocal public proponent of decertification — and Trump’s favorite internal voice on Iran — further boosting her standing with the president at a time when she is seen as a potential successor to Tillerson, whose tense relationship with Trump has burst into the open in recent days….Haley’s role was described by a half-dozen administration officials who took part in the Iran policy review. While many of the president’s Cabinet members, aides and advisers work to restrain his impulses, when it came to the Iran deal Haley did the opposite — channeling what many Democrats and even some Republicans consider the president’s destructive instincts into policy….Haley wasn’t alone. The fingerprints of former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, whose access to Trump was recently limited by chief of staff John Kelly, were also on Trump’s Friday address in the form of a warning that Trump, who opted not to push for steps that could undo the nuclear agreement, could still cancel the deal ‘at any time.’”

Trump’s Irrational Hatred of the Iran Deal, New Yorker

Evan Osnos writes, “If hawks in Congress push through a law demanding further concessions, it could provoke Iran to abandon the deal, eject the inspectors, and accelerate its nuclear program. That might result in calls for Iran’s facilities to be destroyed before they can produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb. Such a chain of events could lead to a particularly perilous consequence: returning to the possibility of military conflict with Iran, at a time when the United States is already facing a nuclear standoff with North Korea, would court the prospect of a two-front war—an act of self-sabotage more immediately damaging to American security than reviving the xenophobic slogan ‘America First,’ withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, or antagonizing our allies (Mexico, Australia, South Korea, and counting).”

Palestinian Reconciliation: Does Cairo’s recent move hold more promise?, Commander for Israel’s Security

Nimrod Novik writes, “Thus far, these dramatic developments have attracted the attention of Israeli-Palestinian policy junkies alone, and for a very good reason: past failures justify skepticism. This time too, the gaps between the parties on important issues are substantial; internal opposition (mostly in Hamas, but also in Fatah) is mounting; more extreme Palestinian factions can be expected to try and derail the process; and Israel’s position – whether a strategic change or temporary tactical tolerance – is yet to be revealed. Nonetheless, as Egypt alone could not have generated and synchronize all pieces of the currently moving regional puzzle, one wonders whether in the otherwise inept Trump administration there is a pocket of excellence around Chief Negotiator Greenblatt that is doing something right. For if the Egyptian move proves more significant than all prior efforts, one consequence might be the evaporation of the West Bank-Gaza divide as a major impediment for progress on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the attainment of the ‘ultimate deal’.  If that were to happen, those eager to avoid two-state negotiations altogether will be deprived of a prime excuse.”

The process behind Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran deal is terrifying, New Republic

Alex Shepard writes, “Trump’s frequent (and seemingly growing) temper tantrums are alarming, as is the fact that his closest advisers routinely treat him like a toddler. But the biggest and most unsettling aspect of this is how we got to this ‘compromise.’ It wasn’t made for any reason related to policy—it unsettles an acceptable framework by adding considerable, unnecessary, and far-reaching risk. Instead, the United States is shifting its policy toward Iran simply because President Trump doesn’t want to acknowledge any of Barack Obama’s achievements. This compromise was cooked up to please the president’s ego, not because it serves any sort of larger strategic or geopolitical interest.”

Why Is This Jewish Politician First In Line For Money From ‘Alt-Right’ Conspiracy Theorists?, Forward

“Josh Mandel, a U.S. Senate candidate from Ohio, has agreed to accept the first endorsement from a new political fundraising group put together by conspiracy theorists, a move that deepens an unlikely relationship between a Jewish politician and the “alt-right,” an amorphous political movement that has anti-Semitic elements. On October 4, Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec launched the Super PAC #REV18 with the goal of advancing anti-establishment Republican candidates in the mold of President Donald Trump. Mandel, Ohio’s state treasurer and the putative Republican candidate against Senator Sherrod Brown in the 2018 elections, is the group’s first beneficiary….But while within his party Mandel, who still needs to win the Ohio primary, will face no backlash for joining forces with #REV18, his Democratic rival, incumbent Sherrod Brown, is seizing on the opportunity to paint Mandel as an extremist.”

Netanyahu’s engineered image, Al-Monitor

Mazal Mualem observes, “With the passage of time, the public image that Netanyahu strives to present has overshadowed his real life story. The difficulties and downfalls he experienced as a child, youth and politician have been wiped out of his biography, clearing the stage for pathos-filled memories, symbolism and nationalism. With every such interview, Netanyahu manages to sear himself into the collective consciousness as the ultimate Jewish-Israeli icon. Harnessing his rhetorical abilities and carefully choosing his interviewers, Netanyahu tries to shape his life for posterity as a one-in-a-generation leader, educated from the moment he was born to sacrifice his life for his country. Therefore, he invariably does everything possible to minimize the significance of the police investigations swirling around him, of his human foibles and especially the hedonism with which he conducts himself as prime minister.”

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