Israel’s President Is Expanding His Position’s Remit

On February 12, Isaac Herzog—Israel’s current president and a former leader of the Labor party—gave a speech about the ongoing public debate over judicial reform, affirming the legitimacy of both sides’ concerns and urging leaders to find a lasting compromise. Such an intervention was an unusual step in a country where the president is for the most part a figurehead, expected to stay above the political fray, and indeed Herzog did his best to express himself in nonpartisan terms. Haviv Rettig Gur believes the speech had significant effects:

The speech didn’t spark a mad rush to compromise, but the political vocabulary changed instantly. Politicians who’d spent weeks showcasing their partisan bona fides now declared their eagerness for dialogue. . . . Justice Minister Yariv Levin [one of the architects of the proposed reforms], made a point of welcoming dialogue even as he explained why he wouldn’t slow the pace of legislation. . . . Under the public gaze directed his way by the president, he suddenly understood he needed to show he was rational and open to compromise.

On the center-left, the process was much the same. The demand to cancel the plan outright transformed into a demand for a temporary pause—[the opposition leader] Yair Lapid called for a 60-day freeze—to allow for serious negotiations.

There’s a reason Herzog’s speech had that effect, and it points to a surprising new role he has carved out for the Israeli presidency in his twenty months in the position, a role probably unprecedented in Israeli history. . . . One obvious example was his role in the revival of diplomatic ties with Turkey. In March 2022, Herzog traveled to Ankara for a state visit. He was received with unusual warmth by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a sharp change in tone from the years when Turkey was the de-facto leader of an anti-Israel, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated axis in the region.

The visit was first and foremost a calculated geopolitical pivot for both Ankara and Jerusalem. But it was also a result of Herzog’s unexpectedly close ties with the Turkish president, the culmination of a long process of careful relationship-building on Herzog’s part that opened a channel of communication between the two men.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Isaac Herzog, Israeli politics, Turkey


An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy