CIS: Jerusalem events expose policy illusions, need for change

Rockets on Ashkelon, riots on the Temple Mount and elsewhere in East Jerusalem, violent clashes between Israeli forces and hundreds of young Palestinians and Jewish extremists, protests by Israeli Arab Citizens, young and old - all are evidence of the explosive potential in Jerusalem that threatens stability and security in the city and beyond.

The messages of concern from the Arab world - including countries that have recently normalized relations with Israel - and from the wider world demonstrate the centrality of Jerusalem and the sensitivity to everything that takes place there, and required prudent policy before undermining further Israel's relations - political, economic, and even security - in the region and beyond.

CIS, with its more than 300 members, all veterans of the security agencies at the highest levels, is convinced that Israel has the capability and power necessary to deal with any security challenge. However, recent events reaffirm two old truisms: not every problem has a military solution; wise political conduct can prevent a security escalation.

Against this backdrop, CIS calls on the government to handle the unfolding events with the sensitivity and wisdom befitting a complex city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians around the world.

CIS welcomes the Israeli High Court of Justice’s wise decision to postpone its deliberation on the Sheikh Jarrah issue, so as not to be exploited by extremists at this high-risk moment. In the same spirit, CIS calls on the Israeli government to act responsibly: To exercise sovereignty by prudent governance, not by tolerance to provocations. To restrain inciters - whoever they may be - and to immediately distance them from friction zones and sensitive locations.

Proper preparation of the Israeli police was indeed essential, but, as was also revealed this morning, it does not have the power to prevent friction, flare-ups, and the exploitation of circumstances to undermine security in the city and beyond. Responsible national leadership should guide the security forces in this spirit, thereby calming spirits and containing the event before it escalates further and claims additional victims.

The series of recent failures in a variety of areas experienced by the state requires a thorough examination of assumptions and patterns of action. As is becoming clear during these hours, this is especially true regarding national security.

The morning after the event, the Israeli government should draw lessons regarding three illusions revealed in full force: 

  • The illusion of relative quiet in Jerusalem, that underpins ignorance as to the explosive relations between Palestinians and Israelis in the city as well as the regional and international sensitivity to what is happening there. A fundamental change in attentiveness and policies is called for regarding the needs of all religions and populations in the city and uncompromising adherence to the Status Quo in its holy sites.
  • The illusion of decoupling the West Bank from the Gaza Strip and from East Jerusalem- as if events in one do not affect the others. Repeatedly, the residents of the ‘Gaza Envelop’ and the entire south have paid the price for this illusion. The formulation of an alternative strategy is called for. One that enlists a potent regional and international coalition for an integrated process of solidifying the Gaza ceasefire, launching an extensive rehabilitation and development plan for its population, and facilitating a gradual return of the Palestinian Authority to its management.
  • The illusion of stability between Israel and the Palestinians throughout the territories. Israel must formulate a comprehensive strategy that meets Israel's security needs while creating a political horizon (even if its implementation is not readily available), improving the quality of life for all who live in Israeli-controlled territories, reducing friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and thus contributing to stability on the ground and the prospects of future separation between the two peoples.

CIS has formulated practical plans for most of the issues whose explosiveness has been exposed. CIS stands ready to provide the experience and expertise of its members, all past senior IDF, Shin Bet (GSS), Mossad and Israel Police officials to the government, defense establishment and to other national agencies in support of the vital effort to formulate an alternative policy on each of these security issues.


For now, all Biden Wants from Israel, Palestinians is Quiet

With domestic and international problems to deal with, the United States has no time to drown itself in our conflict. Its renewed support for the Palestinian Authority has only one goal: to maintain stability.  The resemblance to Israeli interests is remarkable.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Gadi Shamni, Dr. Nimrod Novik

April 21, 2021 | Ynet

The recently announced renewal of American support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) is neither a concession nor a goodwill gesture. It is also no mere “anything but Trump” caprice. It is, rather, a measure that aims to balance three considerations: the needs of the PA’s civilian population, US law and the American interest in stability. In any event, it serves Israel’s security.

The needs of the Palestinian society hardly require elaboration, particularly with the economic and other ramifications of the Corona pandemic in a society with a GDP that is barely 5% of Israel’s. As for US law, as befits a properly functioning democracy with separation of powers, assistance to the PA is anchored in congressional legislation.

The third consideration, however, merits elaboration. It is no secret that the Palestinian issue does not top the US policy agenda. President Biden and his senior officials are preoccupied with COVID19 and racial tensions at home concurrent with a multitude of challenges abroad, which begin with China, continue with Russia, Iran and North Korea, and end with the need to rebuild alliances and forge a broad coalition to combat global warming. Consequently, this is not the moment for a conflict-ending effort on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

As a result, the administration’s middle management officials who are entrusted with our ‘file’ are faced with a complex situation, where superiors expect them to keep matters under control so they do not ‘waste’ the President’s, the secretary of state’s or the national security advisor’s time, yet, in the region, Israelis -- accustomed to frequent conversations with, and visits to the White House -- do not view them as empowered to determine policy.

Three guiding principles should underlie effective cooperation between the US, Israel and the Palestinians:  Stop the slide towards an ever-conflicted single state reality west of the Jordan River, measured steps towards separation between Israelis and Palestinians, sustaining—and improving -- conditions for an eventual two-state solution.
The default approach derived from these conditions is to focus on a modest goal and measured steps to its implementation. The goal is stability. In practice this means preventing instability in a field littered with explosive charges. These include the Gaza pressure cooker that threatens to discharge steam; ongoing efforts of Hamas and other terror groups to carry out attacks in and from the West Bank against Israelis; the erosion of the status quo on Temple Mount, and more.

To this troubling menu one must add a further cause for concern: the potential for the erosion of security cooperation between the Palestinian security agencies and the IDF. Here the concern is not necessarily with leadership instructions to terminate coordination, but rather with rank and file refusal to carry out orders.

IDF, Shin Bet (Security Agency) and COGAT (Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories) officials have repeatedly informed the government and Knesset about the contribution of the Palestinian security agencies to Israel’s counterterrorism efforts.  Still, it appears that our leadership is yet to realize that declining motivation on the part of Palestinian servicemen will undermine efforts to foil terror attacks and that Israeli behavior accelerates this process.

Every move on our part that reduces hope for a political settlement of the conflict (however remote), like any mention of a unilateral annexation, exposes Palestinian security personnel to accusations – by family, friends and the general public – that they are traitors and collaborators with the occupation, who serve Israeli interests rather than Palestinian national aspirations.

With that complex setting in mind, the US administration does not demand painful concessions required for a breakthrough towards peace. What it does expect is responsible conduct.  Given that such a behavior serves first and foremost Israel’s security interests, and as current conditions both in Israel and among Palestinians, are not conducive for a negotiated agreement, isn’t this a sound basis for effective cooperation between the next Israeli government and the Biden administration?

Against the backdrop of the explosives-strewn landscape, Israeli policy must aim at stabilizing the situation, strengthening the PA and ensuring effective coordination with its security agencies. Moreover, the Corona crisis has illustrated how important a well-functioning PA is in addressing the needs of millions of Palestinians and highlighted the threat to Israeli and Palestinian lives presented by the erosion of the PA’s ability to function and to coordinate with Israel.

There seems to be an urgent need for a serious discussion inside our government, as well as between it, the U.S. and the Palestinians, to jointly decide on an action plan that while not ignoring political realities on either side, addresses the real and imminent danger of instability and risks to human lives.

Three guiding principles should underlie such an effective cooperation between the US, Israel and the Palestinians: stop the slide towards the ever conflicted single state reality between the Jordan River and the sea; reverse that slide by means of security-based, measured steps towards separation between the two peoples; and sustain -- and improve -- conditions for a future negotiated two-state agreement.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni is a former IDF OC Central Command, military attaché in the US, and military secretary to Israeli prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

Dr. Nimrod Novik, a former policy advisor to Shimon Peres, is a member of the steering committee of Commanders for Israel’s Security, and Israel fellow at the Israel Policy Forum.

Israel Should Support Biden’s Efforts to Revive the Iran Nuclear Deal

Reducing Iran’s breakout time and restoring robust monitoring are the most urgent priorities. A return to the JCPOA can achieve these goals.

BY Tamir Pardo, Matan Vilnai

April 19 |

Reports of damage to Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility and to an Iranian intelligence ship in the Red Sea - whether or not Israel had anything to do with either incident - and Iran’s subsequent announcement that it will increase its uranium enrichment to 60 percent levels, accentuate both the risks associated with Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions and the urgent need to address them.

On the face of it, the United States and Israel share a similar assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat and regional menace but are also strongly committed to the same goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and, in doing so, to prevent other countries from following suit. Neither is so naive to believe that Iran will abandon its military nuclear ambitions or that a nuclear Iran will not lead to further proliferation and instability in the region.

Yet in practice no issue has divided Israeli and U.S. policies and leaders more than the Iran nuclear deal (also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA).

Given this common objective, to avoid the distrust and acrimony between the United States and Israel that accompanied the negotiations and signature of the JCPOA, and—most important - to block Iran’s path to acquiring nuclear weapons, we and other members of Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), a nonpartisan movement of more than 300 former leaders of Israel’s security establishment, are convinced that differences in the two governments’ approaches to this common challenge can and should be bridged.

With that in mind, CIS has recommended to the Israeli government that it should support the Biden administration’s two-phase strategy - the first of which focuses on reviving the JCPOA, while the second is aimed at reaching a follow-on “longer and stronger” agreement - and closely cooperate with Washington on the design and execution of both.

The two-phase approach is to begin by bringing both Iran and the United States back into the JCPOA, assuming that Tehran’s recent violations and certain flaws in the implementation of the original agreement (all beginning well before the U.S. withdrawal in 2018) are all addressed.

To recall, the goal of the JCPOA was to ensure that Iran could not acquire fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than a year - a measure known as breakout time. However, failure to implement core provisions, coupled with Iran’s violations since the U.S. departure from the agreement - including its pursuit of faster-spinning centrifuges and more highly enriched uranium—have brought Iran to within three or four months of possessing weapons-grade fissile material. Concurrently, Iran has accumulated a formidable arsenal of delivery systems for such weapons, which it developed in contravention of a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

We have urged Israel’s government to support the United States’ effort to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and ease related sanctions in return for Iran resuming full compliance with all three sets of obligations presented by the White House in 2015 as the JCPOA package. These include the core provisions of the JCPOA itself, U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit development of dual-use weapons delivery systems (including Resolution 2231 of 2015), full compliance with the comprehensive safeguards set by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and (under broadened powers codified in the Additional Protocol) granting IAEA inspectors unfettered access to nuclear sites (without cleansing the sites first), as mandated by Iran’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations and reinforced in the JCPOA.

Despite the shortcomings in the deal, no alternative diplomatic platform for dealing with the immediate crisis is available.

A U.S. return to its former status as a party to the JCPOA would restore its ability to determine when sanctions are snapped back, when sanctions relief is warranted in the context of Iran’s compliance, and its ability to affect decisions concerning the efficiency of inspections and reactions to violations when detected.

In addition, a U.S. willingness to return to the JCPOA and ease sanctions should be premised on the ability to ensure the implementation of key clauses in the 2015 nuclear deal that have been dormant, poorly implemented, or evaded by Iran. The most critical among them are those spelled out in Section T of the agreement, which were designed to verify that Iran does not pursue weaponization activity (activity that, as the nuclear archive exposed by the Mossad has shown, Iran had pursued, in violation of the NPT, prior to 2003), conversion of two facilities that Iran has failed to carry out, and collaboration with the IAEA on demonstrating the peaceful nature of its nuclear activity and ratifying the Additional Protocol, which grants the IAEA comprehensive access rights.

Despite the shortcomings in the Iran nuclear deal, no alternative diplomatic platform for dealing with the immediate crisis is available. Still, given Iran’s intentionally drawn-out negotiating style, lifting of sanctions should be linked to Iranian rollback of all violations and restoration of the status quo ante of levels of enrichment, quantities of fissile material, and deployment of centrifuges as specified in the JCPOA. But these would not suffice. The arms moratorium on Iran in the JCPOA already expired last October, other obligations are also due to phase out in coming years, and some steps Iran has undertaken since 2018 (such as its mastery of more advanced centrifuges) cannot be reversed. These shortcomings mandate a two-pronged follow-up strategy.

One component of it, which we deem essential, is the Biden administration’s aim to produce a new, “longer and stronger” agreement and to tackle issues including the Iranian missile program as well as the country’s destabilizing behavior in the region. This effort is likely to be complex and protracted.

Pursuit of these long-term objectives should not be allowed to delay or otherwise jeopardize the immediate goals of reducing Iran’s breakout time and restoring a robust monitoring regime - both of which could be achieved in phase one, through a revived JCPOA.

Matan Vilnai is the chair of Commanders for Israel’s Security and a former deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces and deputy defense minister, as well as Israel’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2017.

Tamir Pardo is a member of the leadership of Commanders for Israel’s Security and the most recent director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency from 2011 to 2016.

Al-Monitor: Former Israeli security officials call on Netanyahu to dialogue with US on Iran deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that Israel will not rely on efforts to return to a nuclear deal with Iran, stating “Israel isn’t pinning its hopes on an agreement with an extremist regime like [Iran]. We already saw what these agreements are worth … with North Korea.”

Still, as Netanyahu was busy formulating the Israeli strategy on the expected resumption of Iran-US negotiations, hundreds of the country’s former generals, spies and defense experts were urging him to back the approach adopted by US President Joe Biden.

The group, known as Commanders for Israel’s Security, called on Netanyahu to support Biden’s approach for returning to the nuclear deal with Iran — but on condition that Iran resumes all its commitments under its 2015 agreement with world powers.

JPOST: Ex-IDF generals, top Mossad officials urge Biden's return to Iran deal

A group of former top officials from Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, the IDF and the Mossad sent a letter on Monday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing support for a US return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
Led by former IDF deputy chief of staff Matan Vilnai, Commanders for Israel’s Security said in the letter that it “welcomes the American initiative to get Iran to again transparently follow the guidelines in the JCPOA as long as it includes an Iranian commitment to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 2231” regarding development of ballistic missiles.

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Times of Israel: Former defense officials back US return to Iran deal, urge new long-term pact

Over 20 former senior military and intelligence officials in Israel sent a letter Monday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz backing a US return to the Iran nuclear deal, while calling for a new international agreement that will curtail Tehran’s military activities in the region.

The letter, dispatched by former IDF deputy chief of staff Matan Vilnai — also a former Labor minister — welcomed the Biden administration’s efforts to reengage with Iran.

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CIS welcomes Sec. Pompeo...

Upon his arrival in Israel (5.13.20), US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, will be unable to ignore CIS billboards, including two situated directly in front of his Jerusalem hotel.

In both Hebrew and English, the billboards, as well as full page ads in the Israeli press, will convey a message from the 300 members of CIS:

"Unilateral annexation threatens Israel's security".


Ami Ayalon, Former Shin Bet, Calling on Gantz to NOT AGREE to any unilateral annexation

Channel 12 - Meet the Press | 4.4.20

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Gantz and Ashkenazi: prevent a government they might join from taking any unilateral annexation measure

Ha’aretz featured a full-page CIS ad whose translation is enclosed. In it, 220 generals and equivalents, including former direct commanders and subordinates of Gantz and Ashkenazi, call upon them to prevent a government they might join from taking any unilateral annexation measure.