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In Israel’s political turmoil, the Biden administration eyes a threat to US security interests

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Joe Biden has not hidden his disdain of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned rehaul of Israel’s courts.

But bubbling beneath the surface of Israel’s political crisis is another concern: shared U.S.-Israel security interests.

As Israeli reservists pledge to boycott call-ups in protest of the controversial judicial reform legislation, experts say Israel’s enemies could see opportunity — and that the Biden administration is worried. Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is headed to Israel next week to check in on the Israeli military, reports claimed on Wednesday.

“The United States has lots of partners in the Middle East, but Israel is by far its closest and strongest partner in the Middle East,” said Shira Efron, the senior director of policy research at the Israel Policy Forum, a group that advocates for a two-state outcome to the conflict. “If Israel’s capabilities and its readiness is affected, the United States loses capabilities in the Middle East.”

Biden has cast his concerns about Netanyahu’s planned judicial overhaul by emphasizing the democratic values the countries share and that he has extolled for his entire political life. “They cannot continue down this road,” Biden said on March 28.

But just two days earlier, on March 26, a White House communications glitch revealed that military readiness was also front of mind. That was the day Neyanyahu fired his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, for calling for a suspension of the legislation, in part because of the harm the political tensions were causing the military.

The Biden administration said it was “deeply concerned” by the firing. An early version of the National Security Council statement, released to the Times of Israel, read: “We are deeply concerned by the ongoing developments in Israel, including the potential impact on military readiness raised by Minister Gallant.”

The NSC removed the phrase about military readiness from later versions of the statement — NSC spokesmen never answered questions as to why — and Netanyahu rescinded his firing of Gallant.

But even as Gallant remains in place, deep questions remain about the degree to which Israel’s searing political divide have weakened its vaunted military and intelligence apparatuses. Netanyahu — and even his son Yair, on social media — has clashed with top military brass, and reports claim the prime minister aims to shake up parts of the army’s chain of command.

Netanyahu has batted down concerns, saying that the changes to the courts that have passed are minor and that he is no longer committed to other parts of the proposed rehaul his government rolled out in January. His opponents don’t believe him and continue to flood the streets at least once a week in massive protests.

He also remains bullish on U.S.-Israel relations, talking up cybersecurity cooperation and artificial intelligence research this month to a delegation of U.S. congressional Democrats who toured Israel on a mission sponsored by an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“The future belongs to those who innovate but the future also belongs to the free societies who cooperate with each other to assure that our people, our citizens, get the benefits of AI and not its curses,” he said. “I think in this regard, and in many other regards, Israel has no better ally than the United States and the United States has no better ally than Israel.”

Security cooperation very much underpins the U.S.-Israel relationship, said Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, an influential think tank that has as its main focus the threat posed by Iran.

“The bilateral relationship on the military and security level is as strong as ever,” Dubowitz said in an interview. “I think the concern is what” the political turmoil will do “specifically to Israeli military preparedness and security with Iran on the cusp of nuclear weapons.”

U.N. inspectors say Iran is closer than ever to enriching uranium at a weaponization level. But even absent a nuclear weapon, Iran poses multiple threats to U.S. interests in the region, ranging from its arming of Hezbollah in Lebanon to its upholding the Assad regime in Syria.

Israel has been key to keeping Iran off balance while the United States deals with other regional threats, Efron said. She cited U.S.-Israel coordination in Syria in the late 2010s, when the country was wracked by civil war, as an example.

“You have a partner with mutual goals,” Efron said. “If one of the partners, the IDF, can’t do one of the tasks, it’s suboptimal.”

The threat to IDF readiness stems from thousands of military reservists who have sworn to stop volunteering if Netanyahu advances his overhaul of the courts, which opponents say would sap the judiciary of much of its independence.

Israelis protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul, near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, March 23, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Most reserve duty in Israel is mandatory, but a subset of volunteers for elite service in commando units, the air force and intelligence are exempt. Reservists in each of those disciplines are prominent among the dissenters.

The greatest threat is to the airforce, where reserve pilots take weekly training flights in order to qualify as ready for combat.

“You know, 60% to 70% of missions by the Israeli Air Force are done by reservists and some of them are going on strike,” said David Makovsky, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank with ties to the U.S. and Israeli governments. “If you don’t train, you can’t fly.”

Natan Sachs, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said reservist defections would have an effect at least in the short term.

“In the short term, there could be operational issues, especially if particular units are not up to up to Israeli standards, which are pretty high standards,” he said. “The numbers are considerable, especially in some of the squadrons.

That lack of readiness could undercut the high-profile joint exercises the United States and Israel periodically stage as a show of unity and force, and as a signal that the United States is ready to keep Iran’s ambitions contained. The most recent exercise was one called Juniper Oak, in January.

Dubowitz said the political tensions are distracting Israel from other pressing diplomatic and security matters, including intensifying Israeli-Palestinian violence in the West Bank, heightened tensions with Hezbollah on the Lebanese border and the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which both Netanyahu and Biden see as a priority.

“There’s a growing possibility we’ll have war with Hezbollah, the West Bank is on fire,” he said. “Judicial reform has eclipsed all other compelling national security priorities, and then also opportunities, there’s a 50-50 possibility of a deal with the Saudis by the end of the year.”

Another reason Biden does not need Israeli instability is his focus on other regions. Like his two predecessors, Donald Trump and Barack Obama, Biden sees the preeminent long term threat in Chinese ambitions. Short term, he wants Ukraine to roust Russia from its invasion of the country.

Israel’s preoccupation with its domestic turmoil “could mean that the U.S. needs to do more in this region,” Efron said. “The U.S. doesn’t want to do more in this region. They want to focus on Russia. They want to focus on China.”

Sachs noted that Israel’s enemies, including leaders of Hezbollah and the Iranian regime, have indicated that they see an opportunity in Israel’s crisis, depicting it as accelerating Israel’s demise.

Israel’s enemies would be wise to be wary, Sachs said. Israel’s military remains formidable, and its reduced readiness poses a threat to its enemies: With fewer soldiers on duty, Israel would use blunter means of retaliation than the highly targeted systems usually available, causing greater damage.

Efron identified a longer-term concern in the presence in Netanyahu’s government of far right extremists. That could affect intelligence sharing, which has remained intensely close whatever other tensions have afflicted U.S.-Israel relations. Spies are less naturally inclined to share information with regimes that have radically different cultures, she said.

“You do this with partners you see eye to eye with,” she said of intelligence sharing. “The lack of shared values creates a challenge for the United States.”


The post In Israel’s political turmoil, the Biden administration eyes a threat to US security interests appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Hamas Leader Haniyeh Set to Meet Turkish President Erdogan

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, March 26, 2024. Photo: Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

i24 News — Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of the Palestinian Islamist terror group Hamas, is scheduled to visit Turkey for talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, according to reports from broadcaster NTV.

Erdogan had earlier confirmed the upcoming meeting while addressing lawmakers from his AK Party in parliament, reaffirming Turkey’s stance on Hamas as a “liberation movement.”

The meeting comes in the wake of a phone call last Wednesday, during which Erdogan offered condolences to Haniyeh after three of his sons were reportedly killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

“Israel will definitely be held accountable before the law for the crimes against humanity it committed,” Erdogan told Haniyeh, according to the AFP news agency.

Confirming the fatalities, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) stated that the three operatives killed in the strike were indeed the sons of Haniyeh, the chairman of Hamas’ political bureau. One of Haniyeh’s sons was allegedly involved in holding Israeli hostages. The IDF described all three as terrorist operatives in Hamas’ armed wing.

Erdogan’s support for Hamas has been evident amid renewed tensions between Turkey and Israel. Although the two countries announced the normalization of relations in August 2022, Erdogan has resumed his verbal attacks on Israel since the onset of the war in Gaza.

In one of his speeches, Erdogan harshly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of committing atrocities in Gaza and dubbing him as the “butcher of Gaza.”

The post Hamas Leader Haniyeh Set to Meet Turkish President Erdogan first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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CAIR Accuses ADL of Spreading Hate, Despite Controversial Oct. 7 Comments

Nihad Awad, co-founder and executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Photo: Screenshot

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has accused the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of fanning the flames of hate and called for the firing of its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, for a recent comment he made that it was unacceptable for someone wearing a keffiyeh to chant “death to the Zionists.”

The accusation against one of America’s most prominent Jewish civil rights groups came after CAIR, another well known nonprofit, received widespread criticism late last year when its executive director said was “happy” to see Gazans “break the siege” during the Hamas terror group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

CAIR on Monday released a letter with more than 60 other organizations, labeling Greenblatt, who is widely perceived as politically liberal, as an “extreme [supporter] of the Israeli government” who has “smear[ed] Palestinian human rights advocates.”

The letter alleged that Greenblatt “analogiz[ed] the Palestinian keffiyeh to the Nazi swastika” during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe television program late last month.

On the show, Greenblatt said that people should be concerned about the tactics of anti-Israel activists on college campuses because when they graduate they would be joining “your board rooms, they’re going to editorial boards, they’re going to the assignment desk of news networks.”

He argued that “if you wouldn’t tolerate” someone saying “death to the Zionists, I wish for that and worse” while they were “wearing a swastika on their arm, I’m sorry, you should not tolerate it if you’re wearing a keffiyeh on their head.” He further noted it was wrong to call for “death to” anyone.

CAIR’s letter did not directly quote Greenblatt’s comment, instead only opting to include the group’s  interpretation of it. 

The letter also alleged that the ADL chief has refused to clarify what he said.

Greenblatt responded to CAIR’s claims in a statement to The Algemeiner.

“Comments I made weeks ago are unsurprisingly being taken entirely out of context by CAIR, an organization that seems to specialize in fiction rather than fact,” he said. “To be crystal clear: hate speech calling for the death of people should not be tolerated whether the person is wearing a Nazi armband or a keffiyeh, a kippah or a cross, or anything else for that matter.”

“I’m not comparing the garb,” Greenblatt emphasized. “I’m comparing the hate speech and how it shouldn’t be tolerated from anyone, period.”

This week’s spat between the two organizations came after the head of CAIR said he was “happy” to witness Hamas’ rampage across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terrorist group invaded the Jewish state from neighboring Gaza, murdered 1,200 people, and kidnapped 253 others as hostages.

“The people of Gaza only decided to break the siege — the walls of the concentration camp — on Oct. 7,” CAIR co-founder and executive director Nihad Awad said in a speech during the American Muslims for Palestine convention in Chicago in November. “And yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land, and walk free into their land, which they were not allowed to walk in.”

Awad was referring to the blockade that Israel and Egypt enforced on Gaza after Hamas took control of the Palestinian enclave in 2007, to prevent the terror group from importing weapons and other materials and equipment for attacks.

About a week later, the executive director of CAIR’s Los Angeles office, Hussam Ayloush, said that Israel “does not have the right” to defend itself from Palestinian violence. He added in his sermon at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City that for the Palestinians, “every single day” since the Jewish state’s establishment has been comparable to Hamas’ Oct. 7 onslaught.

CAIR has long been a controversial organization. In the 2000s, it was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing case. Politico noted in 2010 that “US District Court Judge Jorge Solis found that the government presented ‘ample evidence to establish the association’” of CAIR with Hamas.

According to the ADL, “some of CAIR’s current leadership had early connections with organizations that are or were affiliated with Hamas.” CAIR has disputed the accuracy of the ADL’s claim and asserted that CAIR “unequivocally condemn[s] all acts of terrorism, whether carried out by al-Qa’ida, the Real IRA, FARC, Hamas, ETA, or any other group designated by the US Department of State as a ‘Foreign Terrorist Organization.’”

The post CAIR Accuses ADL of Spreading Hate, Despite Controversial Oct. 7 Comments first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Flip through the digital edition of the Spring magazine from The Canadian Jewish News

With reflections on reporting about the war from Ellin Bessner and more.

The post Flip through the digital edition of the Spring magazine from The Canadian Jewish News appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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