What Lies Behind Obama’s Face-Off With Netanyahu in Washington?

A Round Table discussion with Jonathan Schanzer

by Jerry Gordon and Mike Bates (June 2011)



Late May witnessed a conflict between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on the occasion of the Annual Washington Policy Conference of the pro-Israeli lobby group, AIPAC, and an invitation by the new House GOP leadership to have Netanyahu speak before a joint session of Congress.  Not to be upstaged,  Obama delivered a much heralded major policy address on the Middle East roiling from internal the so-called Arab Spring conflicts in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain on the day before Netanyahu’s arrival in Washington. The set the stage for what turned out to be a set-to in the Oval Office played out before the international media. The sparkplug was the 1200 words Obama added to his Middle East policy speech about establishing a Palestinian state based on the pre - 1967 June War borders, the 1949 Armistice lines between the embryonic Jewish state, Israel and several invading Arab states. Those remarks were delivered without prior consultation with PM Netanyahu leaving less than three hours upon his arrival to confer with aides and Obama officials. The public exchange between the two leaders in the Oval Office was decidedly arctic, with Netanyahu lecturing Obama on the precedents for negotiating ground rules for a possible peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).  A PA that had trumpeted a recent unity agreement with Hamas, a US designated foreign terrorist organization, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.  Obama hastily organized a speech on Sunday, May 22nd at the AIPAC conference at the Washington Convention center  proclaiming American solidarity with its ally Israel, but, also reiterating the pre 1967 basis for borders between Israel and a yet to be established Palestinian state. The Obama Administration had this past January given special status to the PA interest section in Washington, just below that of an embassy that enabled it to fly its flag. Moreover, the PA had started an intensive lobbying campaign to garner the necessary two-thirds majority in the UN General Assembly this September sanctioning a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence with Jerusalem its capitol thereby avoiding negotiating with Israel. The US may elect to exercise its veto power to prevent the Security Council from approving such status.

In acclaimed speeches before the AIPAC conference audience of 10,000 on Monday May 23rd and in an address before a joint session of Congress, PM Netanyahu laid out the case for peace based on security and the history of commitments under UNSC Resolution 242 of November 1967 and a letter from former President Bush in 2004 recognizing that in any negotiated settlement, Israel would be left with secure and defensible borders, a unified Jerusalem as its capitol and adjustments to accommodate upwards of 400,000 Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria.

President Obama didn’t stay around for further discussions instead he took off for deliberations with the G-8 in Europe.

Pundits are suggesting that Obama’s diplomatic faux pas with Netanyahu could give rise to Israel as a possible wedge issue in the 2012 Presidential elections in the US. 

But there were other concerns. Conspicuous by its absence in Obama’s Middle East policy speech was any reference to the special role of Saudi Arabia and a minimal recognition of the threat posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran to Israel and the West. That threat was evident in Iran’s role organizing proxies in Lebanon and Syria to crash the border with Israel on al Nakba Day, May 15th.  Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons, despite the alleged setbacks caused by the Stuxnet Malworm which might have slowed down the uranium enrichment process. Moreover, Iran’s role in 9/11 was noted in a filing by the 9/11 families in the federal Southern District Court in Manhattan made on the same day as Obama’s Middle East policy speech. The filing confirmed the roles of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the terrorist mastermind of Hezbollah, the late Imad Maghniyah, assassinated in Damascus in 2008.

Against this background “Your Turn” host Mike Bates, of radio station 1330AMWEBY of Pensacola, Florida, Senior Editor Jerry Gordon of the New English Review and Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Washington, DC- based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies held a radio round table discussion.

Bates:  Good afternoon and welcome to Your Turn.  This is a special edition of Your Turn today.  It is another of our Middle East round table discussions.  I have with me in the studio here in Pensacola, Florida, Jerry Gordon.  Jerry is the Senior Editor with the New English Review and its blog, The Iconoclast.  Jerry Gordon welcome to Your Turn,

 

 

Gordon:  Glad to be back.

Bates:  Jonathan Schanzer joins us from Washington D.C.  Jonathan Schanzer is Vice President for Research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD).  Jonathan welcome to Your Turn.


Jonathan:  Thank you.

Bates:  We will begin by discussing President Obama's address last Thursday regarding Israel and the two state solution. The President called for Israel to "go back to its pre-1967 boundaries" so before we get into the details let's define those pre 1967 boundaries. Just what does President Obama want Israel to give up in exchange for this elusive peace with the Palestinians? Jonathan?

Schanzer:  The pre-1967 boundaries were also known as the 1949 Armistice Lines and they were the lines that were drawn effectively after the first Arab-Israeli war had ended that basically left Israel with a strip about nine miles wide between the Mediterranean Sea and the West Bank. The Gaza Strip at that point was under the full control of Egypt and the West Bank was under the occupation of Jordan. Those were the borders that the President was talking about in his Middle East Policy speech. The President made it pretty clear, at least in his second speech, the one that he gave at AIPAC, that he doesn't expect the Israelis to go back to those lines. Those lines would be the starting point for whatever discussions would come. The President was certainly putting the cart before the horse, talking about those lines when in fact the Palestinians are not really ready to talk about anything at this point. They have not been to the table nor do they wish to be.

Bates:  So we've got the West Bank, the largest piece of land, we've got the Gaza Strip in the Southwest corner, are the Golan Heights. Which were also obtained in the 1967 War, play any role in this proposal?

Schanzer:  At this point it doesn't seem that it is part of the equation. I think the Obama Administration looks at the Syrian track as something very different. I see Syria as being another country that the Obama Administration thinks that it can turn. If you listen closely to what the President said on Thursday in his statement at the State Department was that Syria needed to either be part of the reform process or get out of the way. It was very interesting to hear the President saying this while the Assad regime was slaughtering people in the streets, running people over with tanks, digging mass graves and sniping people from rooftops. It was very interesting that he even left the door open for Syria. Many analysts believe the Administration still thinks that they can turn Syria and somehow bring it back to the negotiating table with Israel. That would entail Israel handing over all of the Golan Heights and everybody lives happily ever after. I think this is obviously a naive formulation. Nevertheless I think it has gained some credence in this White House.

Gordon:  Jon, in our discussions prior to this program you indicated that Obama has evinced what you would call a failure of statecraft. In an article in Politico you went further in that direction. I wonder if you would give us some flavor of the arguments regarding Obama's inability to get a handle on relations not only in the Middle East but in foreign policy generally.

Schanzer:  This administration is an interesting one to watch. You have a President who is obviously a gifted orator and someone who rose to power based on his ability to deliver powerful speeches. However, at the same time his messaging has been awful and his coordination with allies, whether they be close allies or nominal ones have been rather maladroit as well. Look at what happened in Egypt going from saying that we didn't see Mubarak as a dictator and then 18 days later calling for his ouster. That was a failure of statecraft and I think a massive communications failure. The same is true with Libya. First, it wasn't going to be something that the United States wanted to get involved in and then soon we found ourselves bombing Libya and trying to knock Gaddafi out of power. We’ve had a hard time squaring reality with the messages coming out of the White House. Now we see this in the Arab-Israeli context as well. I think that had the President been wise, he could have reformulated what he was trying to say about the 1967 borders with land swaps. Everybody knows that s the basic formulation. In other words, if there is ever going to be a Palestinian state, it will be based loosely on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Not exactly but loosely. I think that the President didn't do that which was a botched maneuver on his part.  He didn't coordinate with the Israelis and that is the most basic element of statecraft is working with your allies, making sure that everyone is in agreement before opening up your mouth on the world stage. When the President did that on Thursday from the State Department after having given Prime Minister Netanyahu three hours to assimilate this news, the reaction was swift. The Israelis fired back very quickly and we ended up with Netanyahu’s lecture that Obama got in the Oval Office explaining why the 1967 borders were not going to happen. Netanyahu said that very explicitly. I think that was a failure of statecraft on the part of Obama. He thought he was going able to pave the way before releasing something that could potentially have been a game changer.

Bates:  Well this is a question that would be better posed to President Obama but since he's not here Jonathan I'll ask you and maybe you understood what he meant by this. From his speech, he said, "the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves and reach their potential, (and here's the key part), reach their potential "in a sovereign and contiguous state." Contiguous means that there is not a break between them. What does President Obama mean by the use of the word contiguous?

Schanzer:  Well I think everybody was confused on that one. I think the president made a mistake. I believe he went right back to President Clinton’s parameters that had been put on the table at Camp David and Taba at the demise of the Oslo process. He tried to pick up where they left off and made a huge mistake. At the time, the United States and the Israelis were talking about either a bridge or a tunnel or some sort of highway that would connect the 15 miles separating the West Bank from the Gaza Strip in the event that a peace plan would be agreed upon. The point was that the Palestinians walked away from that deal. Yasser Arafat rejected it. He instead launched what became now known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the second Palestinian uprising against the Israelis commonly known as Arafat’s War. This was a campaign of shooting, sniping and suicide bombings. It was a brutal campaign that lasted for nearly five years. When the Palestinians walked away from that deal the Israelis made it very clear that it was not something that they were going to go back to. In other words they said if you reject this it is now off the table. It is not something we are going to discuss any further and what President Obama did was resurrect that without asking the Israelis if they would be willing to go back to that as a starting point. Anyone that follows negotiations and diplomacy in the Middle East knows this was a red line that had been crossed. In other words the Israelis understand that when they go back to the negotiating table they start from the beginning and they make the Palestinians earn every inch that they negotiate and the Palestinians will do the same thing to the Israelis. What Obama did was he decided to go past the first course; the salad and the main course and go straight to dessert expecting the Israelis to be right there with him. It was very clear from what Netanyahu said in the Oval Office as well as what he said in Congress that this was not something that he was happy with. Really it was pre-supposing that the Israelis would be willing to cough up concessions before even sitting down at the table. I think that angered many Israelis.

Bates:  Getting back to the President's use of this word "contiguous," I could perhaps see how a tunnel or maybe a bridge would be a corridor, I could see it as a strip of land joining the West Bank with Gaza then Israel is no longer contiguous, right?

Schanzer:  It wouldn't necessarily prevent Israel from being contiguous and it wouldn't be separated per se. Let me just put it this way. The Israelis are not interested in this right now. After the outbreak of the Intifada in 2000, the Israelis created barriers around all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank with the idea of cutting off traffic between the two. This was a predicate that deepened after the 2007 Civil War when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. Now the Israelis have zero interest in allowing there to be traffic back and forth between these two territories for fear of Hamas infiltrating the West Bank and ultimately taking it over in violent fashion the way they did in Gaza Strip in 2007. So what we are looking at right now is an Israeli government that is not even thinking about making the West Bank and the Gaza Strip being contiguous. They see it as a threat to its own security. So why was it included in a major policy address by the President of the United States is beyond me. It was so far afield and unlikely to happen. It shows a great deal of naivety on the part of this President to expect the Israelis would even nominally agree to something like that let alone begin to lay plans for it.

Gordon:  Jon, a friend of mine, a Minister of the Knesset Arieh Eldad, who is viewed as being on the far right in Israel, deposited a petition with 6000 signatures On May 24th at the Jordanian Embassy in Israel. Colleagues of his did the same thing in several other locations around the globe including Washington, DC. The message was the same that the late King Hussein had used: “Jordan is Palestine.” It also goes to the heart of the demographic question that by mid century Israel may have a population approximating 24 to 25 million. Where are they going to fit all those people, if not in the West Bank and other locations? Doesn't that essentially complicate the nature of "peace discussions" with the Palestinians?

Schanzer:  Well Jerry, you raise obviously very interesting questions that I think are still being hashed over in both Palestinian Israeli circles. The Palestinians have projected exponential growth on their part. The Palestinian Census bureau basically said that within the next ten years or so the Palestinians will eclipse the Israelis. The Israelis for their part are now saying that their demographic numbers have jumped quite a bit. So there is this demographic debate going on about who should be the rightful heir of certain territory. At the end of the day what Netanyahu laid out before Congress is ultimately what is going to drive the Israeli narrative moving forward. He sees Israel as a Jewish state and so if he is wants to relinquish some lands within the West Bank he wouldn't be unreasonable about what lands the Palestinians would claim. Ultimately he would want to make sure that the Jewish character of Israel is maintained and that would be a priority for him. Now we don't know what would happen after Netanyahu's term in office is over and what a future Prime Minister might seek to achieve. That was his vision he forwarded in his speech to Congress. But then you have the Palestinians’ argument that they don't want Jews. They have made it abundantly clear that they don't want settlers; they don't want Jews living in the West Bank territories that they would control. What you are going to see is a battle over exactly how those lines are drawn. That is what we are seeing played out in the world stage right now.  The question of Jordan I think is a fascinating one. You know, Jordan is going through its own tumultuous time right now amidst the Arab Spring. There are a lot of questions out there about the estimated 75 to 80% of Jordan that is already Palestinian. If there was really a democracy to take hold in that country it would already be a Palestinian state. So what you've asked Jerry is whether the West Bank or parts of the West Bank could be joined with Jordan in a, let's say a whole Palestinian polity. The answers to that are unclear at this point. The fact is that the Hashemite King and the leaders of Jordan aren't willing to even consider that at this moment. If we see things continue to go the way they have in that country with the majority being Palestinian there may be no choice in the matter. That is when things will get interesting. I suspect we've got a few years before that begins to play out.

Gordon:  Jon, one of the things that we have discussed is preparations for a possible unilateral declaration of independence for a Palestinian state. There were certain activities that were undertaken by the Obama Administration earlier this year in anticipation of that development. Why is this Administration so enthralled with that prospect?

Schanzer:  Well, it is unclear to me exactly why this Administration has been advocating for a Palestinian state.  Earlier this year in January the administration upgraded the PLO diplomatic section here in Washington to that I think just below an embassy. A Palestinian flag now flies above the building here in Washington and this is something that other countries around the world have done in anticipation of this unilateral declaration of independence that will take place in September at the U.N. General Assembly. The Palestinians have lobbied successfully to get about 130 to 140 countries on board for their declaration of an independent state. This would not be done through the U.N. Security Council so they would not be automatically admitted to the U.N.  However, they would be recognized as a peer among nations and would potentially have the power to sue Israel in the International Courts for land or for rights for their so-called refugees. So there are some very dangerous implications about what they are doing right now. What they are trying to do is circumvent the United States as the moderator of this disagreement. They are trying to bypass Israel altogether so that they don't need to negotiate but rather dictate terms to the Israelis. This is happening now. I believe the President, made very brief mention of it both at his State Department address and during his speech to APAC. However he didn’t get into exactly what the United States planned to do to help head this off.  If he was going to be a friend to the Israelis I think he would do everything in his power to prevent that and bring the process back to the United States which is where I think it really belongs.

Bates:  Does the United States have veto power over that decision as a permanent member of the UN Security Council?

Schanzer:  At the Security Council, the US does have veto power. However, the UN General Assembly needs a two-thirds majority in order to gain broad recognition at the assembly. Then to be admitted into the U.N. would be a Security Council vote. I think the Palestinians would be happy just to get that two-thirds vote and to begin to work the international system without even being admitted to the U.N.

Bates:  So the UN General Assembly vote can have some tangible benefit even without the Security Council going along with it?

Schanzer:  Absolutely, it can and that is what the Palestinians are banking on. They are openly telling the world that is what they plan to do in the absence of a peace process.  The absence of the peace process is due to the fact that they don't want to negotiate with the Israelis any longer. They would rather take these unilateral steps because they found negotiations to be difficult and not yielding exactly what they want.

Gordon:  Jon, Obama's Middle East policy speech at the State Department was totally absent with regard to Saudi Arabia. Why was that?

Schanzer:  Well, this was the elephant in the room. Saudi Arabia has always been that one topic that really no President really wants to address. It comes down to one simple word and that's oil. No President wants to challenge the Saudis especially right now when you think about the price of oil. The challenges that we have here at home economically exist despite the fact that the Saudis are like a mafia family at the U.N. They have been bilking us for petro dollars that ultimately fund terrorism. We cannot challenge them. We are not in a position yet. It actually gets down to what our FDD  chairman Jim Woolsey talks about all the time, which is getting us off dependence on foreign oil. Breaking that addiction here in the United States is important so that we can really begin to fight terrorism in a sincere way.

Gordon:  The President's view of Iran suddenly changed from his State Department Middle East Policy speech to his AIPAC address. In the latter, he projected his views of what the Administration is going to do with sanctions, while actually the Obama Administration hasn't done terribly much and in reality the Congress has taken the lead. What' is going on there?

Schanzer:  Well you know what we are seeing is a lot of activity with regard to sanctions. There were new sanctions that were passed on May 24th through an executive order authorized by the President. We are seeing some new sanctions that are coming out through Congress as well. Various organizations including AIPAC and FDD helped to identify the loophole with current sanctions and how to fix them. We have squeezed the Iranians. There is no question about it that Iran is feeling some pain, financially. We are making it harder for them to operate in the international business community. So, it has been effective. However, there are remaining questions as to whether these sanctions are going to be enough. Obviously the nuclear clock is ticking. The Iranian bomb is looming in the mirror. Objects are closer than they appear. We are all wondering whether we can head this off  in a non-violent way. Netanyahu stated this very clearly in his speech to Congress. We need to make sure that the Iranians know that all options are on the table and that the international community is prepared to take military action to prevent the Iranians from ultimately getting that bomb. 

Bates:  Jonathan, how partisan is this two state proposal. I guess it's really a two-part question. How partisan is it in the United States and how partisan is it in Israel. The reason I ask that question is while President Obama is getting a lot of criticism for this proposal of a two state solution based on the pre-1967 boundaries, President George W. Bush called for pretty much the same thing about a decade ago and that's domestically. In Israel you've got PM Netanyahu saying, "That is not going to happen" and Tzipi Livni with the Kadima party seeming not to mind so much. So how partisan is this in both countries?

Schanzer:  A great question. Let me address the Israeli part of this first. I would say that since the Intifada of 2000, the Israeli left has been basically dead. In other words the left was I think bullied by the notion that the Palestinians were ready to make peace and that Arafat was going to be the Kingmaker and was going to ultimately bring the Israelis out of isolation in the Middle East and that things would work out just fine.  When he decided to chose war over continued negotiation in 2001 that just drove a stake through the heart of the Israeli left and they have been trying to make a comeback ever since. However, none of the groups have gained traction. Tzipi Livni is currently the primary opposition in the Knesset to Prime Minister Netanyahu. I think that her opposition to his positions is simply a political one. I don't believe for a second that she really believes that there is an opportunity for a two state solution right now given the fact that the Palestinians have refused to come to the negotiating table. I don't believe that she has any better ties with Abu Mazen or Salam Fayyad than anyone else does. As far as we are concerned here in the United States, it's a little bit more complicated. If you saw the standing ovations and I think there was something like 25 or 30 on May 24th, during Netanyahu’s address to Congress, people were standing up on both sides of the aisle. There was no question about the support that he had from a bipartisan perspective. Democrats and Republicans alike have supported Netanyahu’s quest for security for the State of Israel. They all made it abundantly clear at the AIPAC Conference and certainly during Netanyahu’s address to a Joint Session of Congress. Over the years you have had Republicans and Democrats pushing for a two state solution. I think that obviously some Presidents have gone further than others. We've seen for example President Carter advocating for a Palestinian state. Even Reagan talked about creating a provisional government that could ultimately become a Palestinian state. George H.W. Bush obviously continued in that vein starting the Oslo Process in 1991 that was then picked up by President Clinton who took the process further than anyone had ever imagined with the final goal of creating two states. George W. Bush, who was staunchly pro-Israel and pro-Israeli security, by the end of his term in 2007, launched the Annapolis Conference which was designed to help create a Palestinian state. Many Presidents have chased after this dream. My theory is that every President comes into office saying that they are not going to get involved in this and not going to get sucked in; however ultimately they find themselves succumbing to the delusion that they can facilitate a peace settlement.

Bates:  What are the issues with a sovereign Palestinian state? If this would truly result in a lasting peace then I think it would be supported and worthwhile. However, with becoming a sovereign Palestinian state brings some issues. They would have territorial claims. They would have border inviolability. They would have military weaponry, diplomatic immunities; they would be able to establish foreign alliances and treaties. They would have smuggling rights with courier diplomatic pouches, currency rights. There is an awful lot that goes along with being a sovereign nation. If the Palestinians become a sovereign state as is presently proposed by President Obama, they would have the ability to wage real war, not just this terrorist daily launching of rockets and suicide bombers. I see this as an inevitable march to war.

Schanzer:  Well, I think you are right; however, in only some respects. I think that a country to country war could benefit Israel greatly. I mean the Palestinians have no army to speak of and the Israelis if attacked by a sovereign state could effectively turn the West Bank into a parking lot in relatively short order. I'm not as concerned about that. However, I am concerned about some of the other things that come along with statehood. You would have tax and revenue streams and legitimate forms of sovereign debt and financing that would ultimately enable the Palestinians to grow their military capabilities and invest in technologies, whether biological or chemical or other sorts of weapons, that could ultimately undermine Israel. That would be troublesome. Once the Palestinian state is sovereign, what happens when they start to sue the Israelis over territory that is disputed? In other words the Israelis are not going to give up the territories where they currently have about 400,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria or the West Bank. If the Israelis don't leave that territory and they insist that the people living there are living under Israeli law, then you have legal battles that begin to take place. You have got potential border skirmishes that are never settled through binding arbitration in the Middle East. They are settled through conflict and what you could see is another Intifada or low level war. A lot of thorny issues emerge from the declaration of a sovereign state. These are some of the challenges that we are looking at. It is not the traditional military confrontation we are looking at but it is a legal confrontation. It is going to make things incredibly complicated and a number of smart analysts here in Washington are still trying to wrap their heads around it. I don't think anyone has come to a consensus as to exactly how this is going to work out. However, I do think one thing is clear. If the Palestinians declare a state, it will be a game changer and it will probably lead to some conflict that could invite other non-state actors to join like Hamas or Hezbollah, who purport to defend the Palestinian cause. They would be salivating at the notion of defending a new Palestinian state.

Gordon:  Speaking of Hamas, given this alleged unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, how can we as a country deal with that?

Schanzer:  Well we actually already have some precedent which I think is very instructive. As you may recall, Hamas won the legislative elections in January of 2006. This was a free and fair election that took place and Hamas won. For about a year it was believed that there was going to be a unity government and the two sides, Fatah and Hamas began to engage. When they started to do that the U.S. took very concrete steps. Because Hamas is a foreign terrorist organization designated by our State Department, it prohibits the United States from engaging in diplomatic activities. We cut off diplomatic ties to any entity that had a Hamas footprint.  Because Hamas is designated by the Treasury Department as a global terrorist entity, we are not allowed to provide funds to any entity where Hamas is taking part. That meant that we had to cut aide to the Palestinian Authority (PA) wherever there was a Hamas footprint. We have a clear set of steps that the US has able to work around the problem, not that I agree with it. Instead of providing funds directly to the PA we provided funds to Mahmoud Abbas' personal security detail for example. Our government has provided additional funds via aid organizations like UNWRA. The USAID has provided help to the Palestinians in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip so the funds were diverted although we made it very clear that Hamas was not to be recognized. I believe these are some of the things that our Members of Congress are starting to look at now in anticipation of the announcement of this new unity government. It has not yet been announced but we expect it within the next week or two. Interestingly Jerry, there is one other, a little sort of tidbit that I flagged the other day on The Hill blog. That the Palestinians are now about to issue sovereign debt. They are going to begin issuing bonds. I have raised the question if Hamas is involved in this government, does that make those bonds subject to terrorist finance laws? So there are all of these questions that are going to emerge now that Hamas is part of the fabric of the Palestinian political spectrum.

Gordon:  Jon, the crux of the State Department Middle East policy speech by Obama was focused on the Arab Spring which appears to be completely in tatters. Why is it that you believe this administration is ill-equipped to do to assist in that?

Schanzer:  The Administration has been all over the board. I mentioned this earlier. You have mixed messages coming out of the State Department and the White House. Whether it was staying clear of Tunisia altogether despite the fact that I think the people there had probably the best case for democracy or despite the fact that Egypt was a major ally of the United States going from saying that was Mubarak is not a dictator to ultimately calling for his ouster. We initially said with Libya we were not going to get involved and then we started bombing it. We are sending very strange messages with regard to Bahrain and Yemen. These are two allies in the United States in the war on terror and they are going through their own tumult. We are basically not issuing any guidance whatsoever. At the same time we are saying that we are going to stay out of Syria. We are going to stay out of Iran and I think we have got our priorities backwards right now. We have to come up with some sort of a doctrine. I wrote a piece for The American Spectator about a policy that explicitly states who our enemies and friends are. I referred to it as the Schanzer policy. We explicitly need to state who our friends are. As an example Syria has been on the state sponsored terrorism list since 1979. They are an enemy of the United States because they supply aid and support to Hamas and Hezbollah. They provided assistance to the insurgency in Iraq and have had all sorts of nefarious ties with Iran. We should be supporting the downfall of the Assad regime in Damascus. But we are not. Similarly with Iran, it has been a terrorist sponsor since 1984.  We know that there are known ties to the  Al Qaeda 9/11 plot, with support to proxies Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas. I can't imagine a worse regime, one that is pursuing weapons of mass destruction. I would support its downfall but we have not been explicit about doing that. Instead we participate in mindless acts of engagement. We need to topple them by calling for their downfall. Conversely, let us identify who are our friends. Given that construct, in my view it was a mistake to let Egypt fall. That is to say that we didn't want to see democracy grow there.  However, we should have done more to uphold an ally that is critical for us in the war on terror; critical in maintaining peace in the region. When you look at Bahrain, we have a significant naval presence there. It's a buffer between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is critical to us and we have not yet taken the proper steps I believe, to bolster those allies. With countries such as Libya or maybe some of the others in the region, those are the ones Europeans can deal with. We are agnostic on that and there is nothing wrong with saying so.

Bates:  You may or may not have heard what Jonathan just said. He made reference to Iranian involvement in 9/11. 

Schanzer:  Right.

Bates:  Have you heard about that? The media has not reported it very much and Jerry I know you have written on that

Gordon:  Yes.

Bates:  Let me ask about the Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program. It's a question I ask every time we have these conversations because it is ultimately a game changer. If they ever get their hands on nuclear weapons and all of the diplomacy then all of the policy and all of the discussion is more or less meaningless because they have pretty much committed themselves to annihilation of Israel. I don't think they would hesitate for a minute to actually do it so we've got to keep the Iranians from getting that bomb. The Stuxnet worm, did it kill it? Did it just set it back? What is the status right now of the Iranian Nuclear Weapons program, Jonathan?

Schanzer:  Well you know obviously Mike we're still having a hard time getting exact information about that program. I mean it is not as if the Iranians are saying where we are now after Stuxnet destroyed part of our program. However, it is very clear that this virus which was allegedly engineered by the United States and Israel ultimately set back the program by a pretty significant margin, perhaps, by a year or more. The Iranians are working feverishly to get things back up and running. However, the centrifuges that were spinning and enriching uranium were ultimately derailed and the Iranians had to start over again in many respects. That is the good news. The bad news is the Iranians are still dead set on this and ultimately seek to achieve this weapon in order to gain leverage in the region and effectively blackmail the West. In other words, it would allow them to do whatever they want because the West would fear a nuclear powered Iran. Obviously Stuxnet did its job.  The one silver lining here is we still don't know the complete impact of Stuxnet. It is apparently a phased weapon. In other words it carries a multi-phased attack and sets the Iranian program back. Then it lies dormant and fires up another round. That has been very helpful. However, we can't rely totally on Stuxnet for the long haul. We are going to have to either derail the regime in Iran or ultimately take out those programs.

Gordon:  Jon, simultaneous with the President's Middle East policy speech, a 900 page filing was made in the Southern Federal District Court in Manhattan. It was filed by the 9/11 families. It revealed the links of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah in facilitating planning, training and transportation of many of the 9/11 perpetrators. This is not something new necessarily but the details and affidavits are stunning because they are based on evidence provided by defectors from Iran's intelligence service. We know that one of the principal terrorists before 9/11 was the terrorist mastermind for Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyah who was killed in February of 2008 under mysterious circumstances in Damascus. Tell us why this has not captured the media's attention or the involvement of the White House.

Schanzer:  Well, it's unclear to me why has not grabbed the attention of the media, especially with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaching. I believe it should be something that all Americans care about especially when you look at the 10th anniversary coupled with the question of Iran and its nuclear program. To know that Iran was involved in 9/11 in any way should be deeply disconcerting to any American. The fact is we know that this has been going on for quite some time. In the early 1990's when Bin Laden took refuge in Sudan, that was a time when the Iranians were effectively building up the Sudanese army. It had been training terrorist groups there for several years including Hamas, Hezbollah and allegedly Al Qaeda. We heard about Imad Mughniyah of Hezbollah and how his footprints were on the twin embassy bombings of 1998 in Africa. When the 9/11 Commission Report came out in 2004, it explicitly stated that a number of the highjackers had gone through Iran and received assistance from Iran. In fact the  9/11 Commission Report called upon the intelligence community to explain those ties because they weren't able to come up with a final analysis and so they asked the C.I.A. to investigate these ties and the Agency never did. The Treasury Department has designated a number of Al Qaeda financial operatives that were based in Iran. Clearly, there is a long trail of evidence of Iran’s involvement. I am glad that the 9/11 families finally did something about it. I believe that when we dig a deeper we are going to find out that Iran has much closer ties with Al Qaeda than anyone had previously imagined.

Bates:  Anything Jonathan that you would like to add before we have to go?

Schanzer: Only to say that we are watching history unfold here. The tumultuous diplomacy that took place in Washington in late May, I believe is going to have a ripple effect for days to come. Certainly, we are still watching the so called Arabs Spring in the Middle East. This is history in the making and I look forward to our next discussion.

Bates:  Jonathan Schanzer and Jerry Gordon thank you for joining this latest round table discussion about the Middle East on 1330 WEBY, Northwest Florida's talk radio.

 Listen to the original audio recording: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

 

 

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