Downgrading the American Military Liaison between Jerusalem and Ramallah Is a Mistake

For the past eighteen years, the U.S. security coordinator (USSC) has played an important role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, making possible the cooperation that has allowed the IDF to stymie terrorism in the West Bank and prevent the Palestinian Authority (PA) from being toppled by Hamas or other groups. But because of 2017 legislation requiring the Pentagon to reduce its overall number of generals, the U.S. plans to replace the three-star general currently in the position with a colonel. Shira Efron and Ghaith al-Omari caution against such a move:

Since its establishment in 2005, the USSC has been one of the rare successes of U.S. Israeli-Palestinian policy. It helped rebuild the Palestinian security sector after the second intifada, elevated Israeli-Palestinian security coordination to unprecedented levels, and has advised the PA on security-sector reform. Part of this success can be directly attributed to the fact that the mission has been led by a succession of three-star U.S. generals, whose seniority allowed them access to civilian and military officials in Washington, Jerusalem, and Ramallah.

In a region where symbolism is highly important, where U.S. partners are anxious about being left behind, [it] should not be underestimated—nor should the negative symbolism of downgrading the mission. Beyond symbolism, the core aspects of the USSC’s mandate require engagement by a high-level officer.

In addition to mediation, the USSC needs to be of sufficient seniority to be able to engage on a peer-to-peer level with Palestinian and Israeli security and military leaders and their civilian superiors. Put bluntly, an American colonel would not command the requisite level of deference and would not be able to engage effectively either an Israeli or a Palestinian military leader, such as the IDF chief of staff, let alone relevant ministers.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, US-Israel relations


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy