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Joe Biden’s Israel Policy Emboldens Iran and Threatens the World

US President Joe Biden addresses rising levels of antisemitism, during a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Annual Days of Remembrance ceremony, at the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, US, May 7, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

At some point, Israel’s current war with Iranian proxy Hamas will likely evolve into a direct and protracted war with Iran. Whether or not this happens while Iran is “pre-nuclear,” such conflict could nonetheless “become nuclear.” In part, this is because any Israeli-Iranian competition in strategic risk-taking – a mutual search for “escalation dominance” – could compel Israel to cross the nuclear conflict threshold. Though this crossing would initiate an asymmetrical or one-sided nuclear conflict, it would still represent a genuine nuclear war.

There are clarifying scenarios. To begin, even a pre-nuclear Iran could mount “quasi-nuclear” attacks on Israel with radiation dispersal weapons and/or conventional rocket attacks on the Dimona nuclear reactor. In these worrisome narratives, both unprecedented, Israel could find itself having to escalate to low-yield or tactical nuclear weapons in order to “win.” In a worst-case scenario, North Korea would confront Israel as Iran’s already-nuclear surrogate. Such a scenario ought never to be dismissed out of hand.

What would happen next? What should Israel do now? Most urgently, Jerusalem needs to initiate a prompt or incremental process of “selective nuclear disclosure” (that is, put an end to “deliberate nuclear ambiguity,” aka the “bomb in the basement”), and clarify its assumed “Samson Option.” Whatever the particulars, the overriding point of this presumptively last-resort Israeli option would not be to “die with the Philistines” (per Samson in the biblical Book of Judges), but rather to enhance the credibility of Israel’s nuclear deterrent.

What do we know about the historical background for rendering such unique strategic calculations? Since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, world politics have been anarchic. This means that every nation-state’s security – but especially beleaguered states such as Israel – must rely on the complex and unpredictable dynamics of military threat. To best ensure a credible deterrence posture, Israel should always display an evident willingness to acquire “escalation dominance,” but also avoid drifting inadvertently or uncontrollably into a nuclear war.

In our increasingly unsteady nuclear age, this two-fold obligation – escalation dominance and nuclear war avoidance – could produce either an intentional or unintentional nuclear conflict. Regarding unintentional nuclear war, it could be an irremediable mistake for Israeli planners and policy-makers to assume that mega-conflict between adversarial states would always reflect rational decision-making processes. Moreover, even a rational Iranian adversary could produce unwanted or intolerable outcomes. For Israel, the ultimate survival problem might not be Iranian irrationality or madness, but the cumulatively injurious dynamic of rational Iranian calculation.

Are the odds of an Israel-Iran nuclear conflict meaningfully calculable? The only scientifically correct answer here is “no,” because valid probability judgments in logic and mathematics must always be based upon the determinable frequency of past events: How many times has an Israel-Iran nuclear war happened before? The obvious absence of any relevant past event makes accurate probability assessments impossible.

There is more. Even if assumptions of Iranian rationality were reasonable and well-founded, there would remain various attendant dangers of an unintentional nuclear war. Such potentially existential dangers could be produced by enemy hacking operations, computer malfunction (an accidental nuclear war) or national decision-making miscalculation. In this last causal circumstance, erroneous calculations could be committed by Iran, Israel or both parties.

There is additional nuance. In the especially-ominous third scenario, two-party miscalculation, damaging synergies could arise that would prove difficult or impossible for Israel to manage. By definition, the “whole” outcome of any such synergistic interaction would be greater than the sum of its “parts.” Furthermore, such “force-multiplying” interactions could surface all at once, as a “bolt from the blue,” or in seemingly fathomable increments.

Since 1945, the historic “balance of power” has largely been transformed into a steadily-accelerating “balance of terror.” To an unforeseeable extent, the geo-strategic search for “escalation dominance” by Israel and Iran – a search magnified by the divergent security expectations of a still-ongoing Gaza War – could enlarge the risks of an inadvertent nuclear war. This conclusion remains plausible even if Iran were to remain non–nuclear.

Seemingly out-of-control escalations, after all, could prod Israel to cross the nuclear combat threshold. Most portentously, the likelihood of such unprecedented escalation has been enlarged by US President Joe Biden’s recent embargo on weapons needed by Israel to fight against Hamas criminality. This is because a strengthened Hamas means a strengthened Iran and a greater Iranian willingness to war against Israel directly. The ill-conceived Biden embargo heightens the risk of nuclear weapons use in the region, even while Iran still remains non-nuclear.

There are vital particulars. The risks of any direct Israel-Iran war would include nuclear war by accident and nuclear war by decisional miscalculation. In this fearful scenario, the “solution” for Israel could never be to “wish-away” the search for “escalation dominance,” but rather to manage all prospectively nuclear crises at their lowest possible levels. Wherever feasible, to be sure, it would be best to avoid such existential crises altogether and to maintain reliable “circuit breakers” against strategic hacking and technical malfunction. Realistically, however, to achieve authentically durable nuclear war avoidance in the Middle East, a more promising strategic posture will be required.

The Iranian existential threat to Israel does not exist in vacuo. Israel faces other potential foes and enemy alliances. Pakistan is a nuclear Islamic state with tangible ties to China. Pakistan, like Israel, is not a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). North Korea has already shared advanced ballistic missile technologies with Russia’s Vladimir Putin (North Korean missile fragments were discovered in Ukraine), and could sometime do the same for Iran. “Everything is very simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but the simplest thing is very difficult.”

Going forward, Israel should comprehensively consider whether there could be an auspicious place for nuclear threats against its still pre-nuclear Iranian adversary. The “answers” will depend significantly on Israel’s prior transformations of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” into postures of “selective nuclear disclosure.” Though all such considerations would concern matters that are sui generis or without historical precedent, Israel has absolutely no sensible alternatives to such logic-based investigations.

Various subsidiary questions will arise. What is the probabilistic difference between a deliberate nuclear war and one that would be unintentional? This distinction could prove indispensable to reducing the tangible likelihood of an Israel-Iran nuclear conflict.

More refined thoughts should dawn. Capable Israeli strategists will have to devise optimal strategies for calculating and averting nuclear war with Iran. This task’s difficulty will vary, among other things, according to

(1) presumed Iranian intentions;

(2) presumed plausibility of an accident or Iranian hacking intrusion; and/or

(3) presumed plausibility of Iranian miscalculations.

Any particular instance of accidental nuclear war would be inadvertent. However, not every case of an inadvertent nuclear war would be the result of an accident. On all such terminological matters, underlying conceptual distinctions will have to be kept continuously in mind by dedicated Israeli strategists.

“Escalation dominance” should never be approached by Israeli security planners and policy-makers as a narrowly tactical problem. Instead, informed by in-depth historical understandings and refined analytic capacities, these individuals should prepare themselves for a self-expanding variety of deeply intersecting, even synergistic explanations.

Summing up, the competitive dynamics of nuclear deterrence will never just fade away. In our anarchic or “self-help” world legal system, Israel must continuously prepare to prevail in variously multiplying and interrelated struggles for “escalation dominance.” Over time, no matter how carefully, responsibly and comprehensively such preparations are actually carried out, a world system based on incessant power struggle and unprecedented risk-taking will fail. Regarding the specific security matter here at hand – the growing prospect of an Israel-Iran nuclear war – such failure would be catastrophic.

Nonetheless, Israel’s immediate task should be to “stay alive,” to navigate analytically and systematically amid potentially irreversible harms. Above all, these harms could include a nuclear war with Iran even before that terror-mentoring state becomes an independent nuclear power. Among other possibilities, a mutual Israel-Iran search for “escalation dominance” could sometime cause the Islamic Republic to (1) activate radiation-dispersal weapons; (2) strike Israel’s Dimona reactor with conventional rockets; and/or (3) compel the Jewish State to use its nuclear weapons to avoid irrevocable defeat.

These three catastrophic scenarios have now been rendered more likely by US President Joe Biden’s embargo on terror-fighting weapons to Israel.

Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books, monographs, and scholarly articles dealing with military nuclear strategy. In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel. Over recent years, he has published on nuclear warfare issues in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; The Atlantic; Israel Defense; Jewish Website; The New York Times; Israel National News; The Jerusalem Post; The Hill and other sites. A version of this article was originally published by Israel National News.

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‘Israel Is Not Jewish People,’ New York Times ‘Daily’ Guest Really Wants You to Know

Anti-Israel protesters outside Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City, April 22, 2024. Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

When producers from the New York Times podcast “The Daily” posted on social media looking for “Jewish students who represent a range of feelings and experiences, from being enthusiastically pro Palestinian to enthusiastically pro Israel, and everything in between,” I replied, “This is a trap! They’ll use the ‘pro-Palestinian’ (the polite term they use for the ones who want to wipe Israel off the map) ones to make it sound like the Jewish community is divided and give listeners the illusion that the anti-Israel protests aren’t antisemitic.”

Sure enough, the Times podcast episode that finally aired, headlined, “The Campus Protesters Explain Themselves,” included three students.

Mustafa Yowell, of Irving, Texas, said his mother was from “Nablus, Palestine” and described himself as a Palestinian Arab. He’s a student at the University of Texas, Austin who complained to the Times that “two IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers had infiltrated the campus.” By “IDF soldiers” he meant Israeli students at the university who had, like many Israelis, served in the army before college.

The second student interviewed, Elisha Baker, a student at Columbia University, described himself as a proud Zionist and a graduate of Jewish day school.

And the third student, Jasmine Jolly, a student at Cal Poly Humboldt, described herself as the daughter of a Catholic father and “of Ashkenazi descent on my mom’s side.” Jolly showed up at protests with a sign that said “in honor of my Jewish ancestors, I stand with Palestine.” Jolly also chanted “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.”

“There’s nothing that has come across to me as antisemitic if you are able to pause and remember that Israel is not Jewish people and Zionism is not Jewish people,” Jolly explained to the Times audience.

Jolly read an email from her Jewish grandfather claiming, “Israel is an increasingly apartheid state.”

This is just such a misleading view of reality on campus and in American Jewish life. Even polls like Pew that use an expansive definition of who is Jewish find overwhelming Jewish support for Israel and negligible support for Hamas, including among younger Jews 18 to 34.

In reality, a lot of the anti-Israel protesters aren’t even Palestinians; they are European or Asian students or white or black Americans who either have been brainwashed by their professors or who have underlying, pre-existing antisemitic attitudes. Few of them have been to the Middle East and many of them are ignorant about basic facts about it — remember the Wall Street Journal piece, “From Which River to Which Sea?

“The Daily” episode made it crisply concrete, with the Times representing Jews as being split 50-50, with one normative Jew and one Jew chanting “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.” That’s ridiculous, yet a similar approach contaminates other Times coverage of the Jewish community, misleadlingly portraying American Jewry as deeply divided rather than unified around the goals of getting the hostages back, eliminating the threat of Hamas, and making American college campuses safe for Jewish students.

The Times was at this game well before Oct. 7, 2023, proclaiming “the unraveling of American Zionism” and trotting out old chestnuts such as the Reform movement’s Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 and the New York Times‘ favorite Jew, Peter Beinart.

I find myself rolling my eyes at such depictions, but there is clearly some audience for them among the Times readership and top editorial ranks. The Times executive editor, Joe Kahn, told Semafor’s Ben Smith in a May interview, “I’m not an active Jew.” Maybe the New York Times can sell sweatshirts: “Inactive Jew.” Who, exactly, is supposed to find that distinction between “active” and “inactive” Jews reassuring? Maybe they can put it on top of the front page in place of “All the News That’s Fit to Print”: “Edited by someone who wants the public to know he’s not an active Jew.”

Of all the moments to choose to distance oneself publicly from the Jewish people, this is sure quite one to choose.

This “Daily” episode seems calculated to appeal to the inactive Jews, and to others who want justification to believe it’s not antisemitic to set up on Passover and falsely accuse Israel of genocide. It’s nice for the Times to include a Zionist voice on the program, but he wound up sandwiched in between a Palestinian and an “only one solution, intifada revolution” person. It’s fairly typical for the New York Times these days, but it isn’t pretty.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here. He also writes at

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad Releases Second Video of Israeli Hostage Sasha Troufanov

Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov as seen in an undated propaganda video released by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group on May 30, 2024. Photo: Screenshot

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group on Thursday released a second propaganda video this week featuring Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov, 28, who was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists during Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

In the video, Trufanov says he is doing well and criticizes Israel’s prime minister and government in remarks that were likely scripted by his captors.

There was no information about when the video was filmed. However, Trufanov refers to Israel’s decision on May 5 to order the local offices of Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite news network to close, indicating he may have been filmed in the last few weeks.

The latest video came just two days after Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed Palestinian terrorist group in Gaza, released its first video featuring Trufanov.

The 30-second undated video shows Trufanov, an Amazon employee, identifying himself and saying that he will soon discuss what has happened to him and other hostages in Gaza.

Similar videos have been released by terrorists groups in Gaza. Israel has lambasted them as psychological warfare meant to torture the Israeli public, especially the families of the hostages being held in Gaza.

Trufanov’s mother said after the first video was released that she was happy to see her son after all this time, but it was “heartbreaking” that he had been a hostage for so long.

“Seeing my Sasha on my TV was very cheering, but it also breaks my heart that he’s still been in captivity for so long,” she said in a video released by the family. “I ask everyone, all the decision-makers: Please do everything, absolutely everything, to bring my son and all the hostages home now.”

Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists abducted over 250 people during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Sasha was kidnapped alongside his mother, grandmother, and girlfriend. All three women were released as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement negotiated in November. His father, Vitaly Trufanov, was one of the 1,200 people killed during the Hamas massacre.

“The proof of life from Alexsander (Sasha) Trufanov is additional evidence that the Israeli government must give a significant mandate to the negotiating team,” the Hostages Families Forum, which represents the families of the hostages, said in a statement.

More than 120 hostages remain in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. Islamic Jihad is a separate but allied terrorist organization in the Palestinian enclave. Both are backed by Iran, which provides them with money, weapons, and training.

Negotiations brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the US to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza have been stalled for weeks.

Trufanov was an engineer at the Israeli microelectronics company Annapurna Labs, which Amazon owns.

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Israel’s Kafkaesque Ordeal at the ICC

Proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, February 16, 2021. Photo: ICC-CPI/Handout via Reuters.

Israel is facing unprecedented and bizarre proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC), crescendoing with a request by Prosecutor Karim Khan for arrest warrants against its sitting Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant.

These events are the result of a multi-faceted and long-developing campaign by anti-Israel activists that has largely advanced under the radar.

Firstly, Israel is not a member of the Court and does not recognize ICC jurisdiction over its actions. In the late 1990s, Israel was initially a strong backer of the ICC, but during the drafting of the Court’s governing Rome Statute, the Arab League blocked efforts to include terrorism as an international crime and helped invent a new crime that would specifically target Israeli activity across the 1949 armistice lines. For these reasons, Israel refused to ratify the Rome Statute and join the Court.

In any other situation, this would be the end of the matter. However, beginning in 2009, the Palestinian Authority (PA), acting in collaboration with UN Rapporteurs and European-funded NGOs linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, attempted to join the Court.

Rather than dismiss the PA’s effort immediately because the PA is not a state — and ICC membership is only available to states — the ICC Prosecutor at the time, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, launched a PR campaign to ostensibly “debate” the issue. Three years later, he rejected the PA’s application, but instead provided a blueprint facilitating the Palestinians’ ability to circumvent the clear standards of the Rome Statute.

In November 2012, the Palestinians succeeded in upgrading their status at the UN to “non-member observer state.” Merely on the basis of this semantic, rather than substantive change, ICC officials allowed the Palestinians to game the system and join the Court.

Despite these machinations and exploitation of the Court, the next Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, filed a request with the Court’s Pre-Trial chamber (PTC) in December 2019 seeking authorization to open an investigation into crimes allegedly committed on the territory of the “State of Palestine,” despite the fact that this state does not exist and has no defined territory. Moreover, she argued that the Court could proceed against Israelis, regardless of whether it was a member of the Court.

This action, endorsed by the PTC in February 2021 in a controversial 2-1 opinion, essentially eviscerated the Oslo Accords, the agreement mutually agreed to between Israel and the PLO in the mid-1990s, which lays out governance of the West Bank and Gaza.

A key provision of the Accords is that the PA would not have any authority to exercise or delegate any criminal jurisdiction over Israelis to the Court. The Prosecutor and the Court completely ignored this issue.

In yet another unbelievable move, the Court next also allowed the Palestinians to retroactively assign temporal jurisdiction going back to June 13, 2014, precisely the day after the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teenagers, which triggered the war that summer. This meant that Hamas’ brutal murder and kidnapping of Jews, a preview of what Israel would experience on a larger scale on October 7, would get a free pass from the Court.

Fast-forward to Khan’s move to file for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant. Here, too, the Prosecutor’s office engaged in highly questionable conduct. Khan could have already issued indictments against Hamas leaders on October 7 itself, when their flagrant crimes were broadcast around the world. Instead, he chose to wait until after manufactured allegations of “starvation” could be crafted against Israeli officials. He also inexplicably ignored thousands of other war crimes, including each rocket attack on Israel, committed by Palestinians since 2014.

In yet another outrageous move, at the time of the announcement, Khan’s team had been scheduled to attend meetings in Israel. However, the planned trip appears to have been a bad faith ruse. Instead of the team boarding the plane, Khan went on CNN to tell Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview about the arrest warrant requests. It doesn’t take an expert in communications to know that such a step would generate a storm of PR almost solely focused on Israel, meaning attention on the Hamas atrocities and real crimes committed on October 7 would be virtually ignored.

One also wonders if any mind was paid to what this action might mean for any hope of a ceasefire to secure the release of the hostages.

Egregiously, Khan’s actions offended another cornerstone of the Rome Statute, that of complementarity. The ICC is only supposed to act as a court of last resort in situations where a judicial system is unable or unwilling to investigate international crimes. As he himself acknowledged on a visit to Israel in early December, Israel has robust investigatory mechanisms and judiciary — one that has never shied away from intervening in military matters, nor in going after the most senior officials, including prime ministers.

Instead of giving the Israeli system a reasonable time to proceed, however, the Prosecutor disregarded the complementarity requirement and decided to bulldoze forward. In contrast, although Khan has had for years the jurisdiction to act against President Maduro in Venezuela, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and military junta in Myanmar — authoritarian governments responsible for horrific atrocities — no cases have been filed.

Multiple procedural irregularities and political maneuverings of the Office of Prosecutor have been well-documented, and there are several other disturbing aspects to the “Situation in Palestine” not mentioned here. For years, the ICC has been under intense criticism for its lack of accomplishments in its more than 20 years of operation. Khan was brought in to serve as a sober and responsible actor to right the ship. The actions of his office the past few months now call this assessment into question.

In an interview published with the Times of London a few days after his inexplicable actions, Khan stated, “if we don’t hold on to the law, we have nothing to cling onto.” The Prosecutor would be wise to reflect on his Office’s history and follow his own advice.

Anne Herzberg is the Legal Advisor of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research organization.

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