Prime Minister Bennett is leaving for Washington DC tomorrow (Tuesday) for a snap 48 hour visit. He is scheduled to meet with Biden on Thursday.
That meeting is the very bad idea that I am referring to here. (Not that there are not many others.)
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, who lives here in Israel, described the situation with clarity (emphasis added):
“[Biden] has been fleeced by the Taliban, by Russia, and by China. He is looking for a foreign policy victory – some ceremony or good news for which he can claim credit and reverse his decline into irrelevance. Unfortunately for us, Israel provides for him the ripest opportunity. Biden won’t even say the words “Abraham Accords” and has done nothing to broker deals with the handful of other Arab countries anxious to make agreements with Israel. Worse, he has reversed Trump’s successful policy and again made the Palestinian “cause” the centerpiece of American diplomacy in the region.
“That is disastrous for Israel as no good will come of it. For that matter, it would be foolhardy for PM Bennett even to visit Washington in the coming weeks. He would be expected to prop up Biden with some concession, mouth support for the two state illusion or otherwise bolster Biden’s falling standing. Bennett should stay away from Washington at least through the holidays – blame the holidays, blame Corona, blame the quarantine. Blame something or someone – but only harm will result from a United States visit at this juncture…”
For me, this is all so obvious on the face of it that I find it difficult to imagine that at least some of Bennett’s advisors didn’t give him the very same advice.
Perhaps he truly believes he can come away from meetings with Biden with some sort of gain that will give him leverage when he returns. But it is also possible that he is simply reluctant to say no to Biden.
It exacerbates concern that Bennett—whose own party has a meager seven mandates — heads a government of enormous political diversity. He will not enter discussions in the oval office from a position of political strength. While he represents himself as right-wing, he is sometimes deflected by the left-wing elements of the government, and by threats Mansour Abbas of Ra’am makes to pull out.
Top of the agenda for the Bennett-Biden meeting is Iran. At the Cabinet meeting yesterday, the prime minister said:
“We [the Israeli delegation] will present an orderly plan that we have formulated in the past two months to curb the Iranians, both in the nuclear sphere and vis-à-vis regional aggression…
“I will tell President Biden that it is time to stop the Iranians – to stop this thing – not to give them a lifeline in the form of re-entering into an expired nuclear deal. It is no longer relevant, even by the standards of those who once thought that it was.”
He is going to tell Biden to stop plans to re-enter the Iranian deal and he expects Biden to listen? I don’t think so. Biden is good at sucking-up to Iran and seems determined to continue in the same vein.
As a matter of fact, Biden is so good at sucking-up that one is inclined to question what his end goal is – and, significantly, that of his advisors. It sure isn’t a strong America.
When then president Obama’s people were negotiating the original deal with Iran, they made so many concessions that I frequently found myself wondering which side he was on. We must never forget that Biden was Obama’s vice president during this time, and that Obama, without a doubt, is a key advisor to Biden now, wielding major influence.
Caroline Glick concurs that Bennett’s efforts in this regard would be pointless:
“But as Biden showed on Monday…he will not rethink his choices or positions, even after they failed. As Biden rejects all criticism of his personal failure in Afghanistan, there is effectively zero chance he will reconsider his policy of 42 years on Iran…”
So, if there is no chance going in for Bennett to affect a change, is he not setting himself up for failure?
Jacob Nagel, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, makes some significant points regarding this.
“Israel wants to encourage a partnership with the US in gathering intelligence on Iran’s weaponization program.”
Fair enough, although I am unclear about the degree to which this partnership can or should be encouraged. Questions have been raised as to whether the US establishment can be trusted not to divulge information we have shared.
What is critical, says Nagel, is that “Israel cannot be part of any new agreement that involves return to the old, faulty JCPOA. Israel must maintain full freedom of action in targeting elements of the Iranian nuclear program, while strengthening its military options.”
Indeed, and perhaps the Americans do need to hear this from Bennett unequivocally.
One of my concerns is that the Americans will push for a quid pro quo: OK, we’ll participate in a joint statement on Iran if that statement also includes something about Israel’s gestures towards the Palestinian Authority. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said “peace initiatives” would also be on the table. But there must be no linkage. (One of the issues of concern is the US desire to re-open a US consulate on Agron Street in western Jerusalem that would serve as a de facto embassy to the PA.)
In his statement to the Cabinet, Bennett referred to Israel’s growing stature in the Middle East and Israel’s ability to form a coalition of states to stand against Islamic (including Iranian) extremism. This is true and something to be grateful for (with much gratitude to President Trump for his role in promoting the Abraham Accords). Bennett speaks about hopes of involving US cooperation in this coalition building.
But here he misses the point, whether willfully or not I am not sure. The need for an Israeli-moderate Muslim state coalition against Islamic extremism has grown precisely because it is recognized that the US positions have shifted and America can no longer be relied upon. Biden has actually attempted to undermine the Abraham Accords, as he pushes for a “two-state-solution.”
States Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: “We in Israel have to team up with our Sunni Arab allies to build a new security consensus for the Middle East… For all of the countries that have been under the wings of the American eagle, this is a very tough time… (Emphasis in the original)
I believe there is a direct connection between US policy on Iran and US actions in Afghanistan. And so I want to devote the remainder of this posting to the latter:
Right now there are reports that the US government is telling American citizens caught in Afghanistan not to try to get to Kabul and the airport – it’s too dangerous. Already ISIS is part of the picture and making threatening noises. Apparently Americans are being told to gather in small, designated groups and wait to be picked up or escorted to the airport.
A Pentagon spokesman said the US had “a whole panoply of security concerns” regarding efforts to evacuate Americans
I read that Biden is thinking of sending in civilian planes to bring out Americans. What? They are short on military planes?
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that “we know of a small number of cases where some Americans…have been harassed, and in some cases, beaten.”
Kirby said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told members of Congress in a call Friday that violence against Americans “is unacceptable.” That will fix things.
Shameful doesn’t begin to describe this scenario.
The big fear is that some Americans will end up being taken as hostages, much as Iran took hostages when Carter was president.
It is of some considerable interest that former president Obama had indirect involvement in what is going on in Afghanistan today (emphasis added):
In 2014, Obama released five Taliban commanders who were held in Guantanamo Bay prison, in exchange for the release of US Sgt. Robert Bowe Bergdhal. Bergdhal had deserted his post in Afghanistan and was subsequently picked up by the Taliban. (After his release, he was court-martialed and found guilty; he received no prison time but was dishonorably discharged from the army.)
There was considerable public unease about the release of these five, who were dangerous.
Obama “assured a wary public that the dangerous enemy combatants would be transferred to Qatar and kept from causing any trouble in Afghanistan.
“In fact, they were left free to engineer Sunday’s sacking of Kabul.
“Soon after gaining their freedom, some of the notorious Taliban Five pledged to return to fight Americans in Afghanistan and made contacts with active Taliban militants there. But the Obama-Biden administration turned a blind eye to the disturbing intelligence reports, and it wasn’t long before the freed detainees used Qatar as a base to form a regime in exile….
“The mastermind of the regime change [Taliban takeover] is former detainee Khairullah Khairkhwa, the Taliban mullah whom Obama released from Gitmo even though the Pentagon classified him as too dangerous to release.”
Matt Vespa, author of the above article, suggests that Obama was a “dithering fool” who had “jeopardized American national security.” I would suggest, however, that Obama is no one’s fool. As I suggested above, he never demonstrated a concern for a strong America – quite the contrary. And so it is important to consider what his end game was, and is.
One of Biden’s defenses regarding the current failure in Afghanistan is that his predecessor, Trump, set him up for this by making certain arrangements that required the pullout. Caroline Glick has countered this claim by Biden, and should be widely shared, so that responsibility cannot be deflected away from Biden (emphasis added):
“As former president Donald Trump and his secretary of state Mike Pompeo explained on Sunday and Monday, the agreement Trump reached with the Taliban was conditions based. Since the Taliban breached the conditions, there is little reason to believe that Trump would have implemented the troop pullout.
“Moreover, Trump intended to evacuate civilians – both U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals who worked with the Americans along with their families — before pulling out U.S. military forces…
“In a conversation with Israel Hayom, a former senior Trump administration official noted as well that unlike Biden, Trump was willing to listen to argument, and change his positions to align them with the situation on the ground when necessary.
“’After Trump ordered the removal of all U.S. forces from Syria in 2018, several people from both inside and outside the administration warned him that a full withdrawal would be dangerous. So he changed his plans. He withdrew most of the U.S. forces but left a few hundred in key locations and gave them the wherewithal to secure U.S. goals in the country.’
By the same token, the official argued, Trump would likely have kept a residual force in Afghanistan…
“Perhaps the oddest aspect of Biden’s indictment of Trump is that he treated Trump’s deal with the Taliban as immutable. Yet, as Pompeo noted, just as Trump abandoned Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, so Biden was free to walk away from Trump’s deal with the Taliban. Biden’s protestations regarding the deal were particularly ridiculous given that in his seven months in office, Biden has taken a cleaver to nearly all of Trump’s domestic and foreign policies. Biden didn’t remove U.S. forces from Afghanistan because he had to keep Trump’s deal. He removed them because he wanted to.
Yes, my friends, tough and very complex times. And so we end with a good news item:
“Two months ago, vaccines were seen as the great hope to end Covid-19. Now, as the virus continues to mutate, interest in emerging Israeli treatments is growing fast…
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.