Are the rumors true? Is Netanyahu about to make “painful concessions” in the peace process? Here’s what we know.

netanyahu-Obama-inPMofficeUPDATED: (Washington, D.C.) — The very fact that Israeli leaders on the center-right of the political spectrum are getting so anxious, even angry, strongly suggests two rumors are true:

  1. The Obama administration and the Europeans are putting enormous pressure on the Netanyahu government behind the scenes to say “yes” on to an American-crafted peace plan; and
  2. Netanyahu is seriously contemplating agreeing to deeply painful and enormously controversial concessions, possibly even dividing Jerusalem and rolling Israel back to her pre-1967 borders.

Many analysts have felt for the past year that Secretary Kerry’s frenetic efforts to jump-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were going nowhere and doomed to failure. Now there is rapidly growing evidence that Kerry has driven the two parties into the corner, and that he appears to be putting the most pressure on the Israeli side to make the deepest concessions.

Here’s what we know so far:

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly last October, Netanyahu signaled he was preparing to make “painful concessions” for peace. “Israel continues to seek an historic compromise with our Palestinian neighbors, one that ends our conflict once and for all,” the PM said. “We want peace based on security and mutual recognition, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state of Israel. I remain committed to achieving an historic reconciliation and building a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Now, I have no illusions about how difficult this will be to achieve. Twenty years ago, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians began. Six Israeli prime ministers, myself included, have not succeeded at achieving peace with the Palestinians. My predecessors were prepared to make painful concessions. So am I. But so far the Palestinian leaders haven’t been prepared to offer the painful concessions they must make in order to end the conflict.”

At the time, it wasn’t clear anyone was listening to that paragraph, or believed him — after all, the bulk of that speech was about the Iran nuclear threat. But Israelis are listening now, and some are growing angry, even those within his own government.

Two weeks ago, for example, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon lashed out at the American plan, describing it as worthless, naïve, “messianic,” and dangerous. “The American security plan presented to us is not worth the paper it’s written on,” Ya’alon said. “It contains no peace and no security. Only our continued presence in Judea and Samaria and the River Jordan will endure that Ben-Gurion Airport and Netanya don’t become targets for rockets from every direction. American Secretary of State John Kerry, who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor, cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians….Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) is alive and well thanks to us. The moment we leave Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) he is finished. In reality, there have been no negotiations between us and the Palestinians for all these months – but rather between us and the Americans. The only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.” The Obama administration was furious, and Yaalon apologized, sort of, under pressure from Netanyahu.

This week, Israeli Economic Minister Naftali Bennett lashed out at the American plan and harshly warned Netanyahu not to give away Judea & Samaria and put Jewish settlers under Palestinian sovereignty. “Our forefathers and our descendants will not forgive an Israeli leader who gives up our country and divides our capital,” Bennett warned, adding that the government’s growing fear of boycotts “is what will bring on the boycott. This is no way to handle negotiations, running frightened between the capitals of the world.” Bennett later added that the Prime Minister’s approach “reflects the loss of a moral compass. We didn’t experience 2,000 years of yearning for the Land of Israel so that we could live under the government of Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas). Anyone thinking of placing the lives of Jews in the Land of Israel under Palestinian rule is pulling the rug out from under our presence in Tel Aviv….I call on the prime minister to immediately reject this terrible idea.” Netanyahu’s team threatened to fire Bennett from the ruling coalition unless he took back his personal attack. Eventually, Bennett apologized, sort of.

Such tensions would not be flaring this intensely if Kerry wasn’t about to lower the boom on Israel, and center-right political leaders in Israel weren’t so worried Netanyahu was about to agree to far-reaching concessions.

Consider the following:

What is in the “framework agreement”? The Obama team has leaked key details to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times:

  • The “Kerry Plan,” likely to be unveiled soon, is expected to call for an end to the conflict and all claims
  • following a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank (based on the 1967 lines)
  • with unprecedented security arrangements in the strategic Jordan Valley.
  • The Israeli withdrawal will not include certain settlement blocs
  • but Israel will compensate the Palestinians for them with Israeli territory.
  • It will call for the Palestinians to have a capital in Arab East Jerusalem
  • and for Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
  • It will not include any right of return for Palestinian refugees into Israel proper.

Is there evidence that Netanyahu and Abbas are trying to prepare their people for painful concessions? Here’s an interesting analysis of the “framework agreement” — and Sec. Kerry’s effort to hammer out “interim” deals on both the Iran issue and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — by David Ignatius of the Washington Post.

  • [The]  issues may still prove insoluble: Listening to Israeli Finance Minister Naftali Bennett at a conference here Tuesday, it was clear how vehemently the right-wing settlers’ movement he represents would oppose a Palestinian state. “Our forefathers and ancestors and our descendants will never forgive an Israeli leader who gives away our land and divides our capital,” Bennett said, his voice almost a shout.
  • Yet the prospect of a framework agreement, of the sort Kerry is seeking, seemed tantalizingly close in comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the gathering, which was sponsored by the Institute for National Security Studies.
  • Netanyahu told the conference that the U.S. was compiling a document that would summarize the points that have emerged during the months of secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
  • He said that Israel might agree to further talks under this framework, while not accepting all the U.S. ideas, as long as the Palestinians agree to a demilitarized state that guarantees Israel’s security and accepts Israel’s status as a homeland for the Jewish people.
  • Abbas said in televised remarks to the conference that he might be willing to accept a phased, three-year Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and continued presence by other military forces, as ways of satisfying Netanyahu’s security concerns.
  • Amos Yadlin, a retired chief of Israeli military intelligence who heads the institute that hosted the conference, described Kerry’s goal: “It’s a framework agreement, or an agreement on a framework, or an American piece of paper,” he said, but the aim was to roll forward the negotiations for another nine months.
  • The White House has backed Kerry’s attempt to pull together the parameters that have emerged in the negotiations, rather than simply striving for another round of confidence-building measures, such as Israeli releases of Palestinian prisoners and Abbas’ restraint from taking his case for a Palestinian state to the United Nations.
  • As in the Iran negotiations, a framework agreement would patch over what are still wide differences on a permanent, final-status agreement. But they would reduce the risk of outright conflict while diplomacy continues.

What are the political ramifications inside Israel if Netanyahu says “yes” to the U.S. “framework agreement”? Useful analysis by Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg News:

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is obviously getting somewhere in his attempt to achieve a framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, because all the right people — the far-right people — are going a little nuts.
  • At a security conference this week in Israel, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party — reacting to an earlier suggestion made by the leader of his governing coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that Jewish settlers could conceivably find themselves living under Palestinian rule one day — asked, “Why should Jews live in Tel Aviv with Israeli sovereignty and in Eli and Hebron under Palestinian sovereignty? Open up the Book of Genesis and form an opinion. I demand that this idea be removed from the agenda.”….
  • Netanyahu, unlike a set of government ministers to his right, including Bennett, understands that Israel’s addiction to West Bank settlements is undermining the legitimacy of his country, and endangering its role as a democratic haven for Jews.
  • This is why he appears to be taking small rhetorical steps in Kerry’s direction — floating the idea that Jews on the West Bank could remain where they are under Palestinian rule (a proposal the Palestinians, so far, at least, reject) is one way he’s signaling to the Israeli public that unpopular decisions might be coming.
  • Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas also seems to be bending under Kerry’s pressure, offering just this week a concession of his own: Israelis forces, he said, could remain in parts of the West Bank for as long as three years after an agreement is struck. Previously, Abbas had argued that all Israeli forces must depart as soon as a deal is made.
  • For Israelis, there are two ways to look at Kerry’s Herculean (and often Sisyphean) efforts to outline an agreement between extremely hesitant parties.
  • The first way is Bennett’s: Much of the Israeli right sees Kerry as the enemy, trying to break the will of their prime minister in order to uproot settlers and create a Palestinian state that will become a source of endless violence.
  • The second way is the one favored by Israelis of the center and the left: suspicion of grandiose American schemes but also a sober realization that someone needs to figure out a way to disentangle Israel from the lives of its Palestinian neighbors, and that that person may well be Kerry.
  • The particular difficulty for Netanyahu is that he might have both of these understandings fighting it out in his head.
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The White House is trying to impose a Mideast peace deal. Here’s what you need to know.

Is the Obama administration trying to divide Jerusalem?

Is the Obama administration trying to divide Jerusalem?

(Washington, D.C.) — A fascinating but dicey and possibly dangerous moment is rapidly approaching in the epicenter.

The Obama administration is about to tell the Israelis and Palestinians how to solve their problems. The White House is about to pressure both sides to agree “in principle” to an interim agreement, and then work on a final peace treaty. How the two sides will react is anyone’s bet. Could the dynamic actually lead to a peaceful resolution of an ancient conflict? Seems unlikely. Could it lead to a calm and quiet at least for a while? Sure, theoretically. But to be candid, it could also lead to political chaos, or even to renewed violence.

Let me explain as concisely as I can.

Within days, or at most a few weeks, Secretary of State John Kerry will present both sides with what he calls a “framework agreement.” Essentially, this is an American-crafted peace plan. Yes, it will be based on month after month of discussions with both sides, and with the Jordanians. But make no mistake: it’s the plan President Obama wants to impose on the two parties. It is supposed to create the context for the final peace treaty, which the White House wants negotiated, completed, and signed by the end of 2014.

There will be much in the “framework agreement” both sides don’t like. For example, the plan reportedly calls for dividing Jerusalem and turning into East Jerusalem into the Palestinian capital, something the Netanyahu team adamantly rejects. The plan also keeps Israeli troops helping patrol and secure the Jordan Valley for a period of years, something the Abbas team adamantly rejects. Nevertheless, the two sides are supposed to say “yes” to this interim deal, and then use it to craft a final and supposedly “better” deal.

But this where the problems lie. There are many. Let’s consider just two.

First, the Obama team could inadvertently make the situation worse. It could accidentally set into motion events that lead to renewed Palestinian terrorism (i.e., a “Third Intifada”) which would force the Israeli Defense Forces into a combat mode. Casualties could escalate, and things could get out of control. It’s happened before. In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton tried to pressure the Israelis and Palestinians to make a final deal at Camp David. Then-Israeli PM Ehud Barak finally agreed to make sweeping concessions to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Barak offered the Palestinians all of Gaza, 93% of the West Bank, and half of Jerusalem for their capital, in return for a final peace treaty and the end to all claims. But wanting much more, Arafat said no. He quit the talks, left Camp David and then supported the Second Intifada, which unleashed a wave of suicide bombers who kept killing Israeli civilians, and caused the IDF to invade cities and towns in the West Bank to find and crush these terror cells.

Let’s pray this doesn’t happen. We all want peace. We certain don’t want violence to break out again, especially on such a wide scale.

Second, trying to force both sides to accept an American peace plan could blow up either or both governments.

If the Netanyahu government says “yes” to this interim Obama peace plan, his coalition may revolt. Already the right-wing parties fear that Netanyahu will make dangerous concessions in the final negotiations. He has made major concessions before, giving the ancient city of Hebron to the Palestinians, for example. If Netanyahu looks like he’s agreeing to more painful and arguably unwise concessions, certain Israeli political parties may quit the coalition, or Netanyahu might fire them. Political tensions in Jerusalem have been spiking all week for these very reasons. Saying “yes” might mean the Netanyahu government has be significantly reshuffled (i.e., replacing defecting right-wing parties with one or more left-wing parties). But it also could collapse all together. If so, then new elections would have to be called, which would further delay if not derail the “peace process.”

But if Netanyahu’s government says “no” to the Obama plan, there could also be repercussions.

  • Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid warns European countries could impose a boycott on Israeli goods to punish Israel for saying “no” to the American plan. Lapid says this could cost Israel billions of dollars in lost exports and  “hit every Israeli citizen directly in his pocket.”
  • Israel’s Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz says Lapid’s concerns are overblown, and Israel could weather the storm.

Given that no one knows which side of that debate is right, there is a great deal of pressure on the Netanyahu team not to inadvertently create an economic nightmare for the Israeli people.

Yet there is also great pressure on Netanyahu not to make concessions that threaten the long-term security of the Jewish state.

  • What if Hamas Islamists seize control of the West Bank government from the more secular Fatah faction, like it did in Gaza? Then what?
  • If the IDF stops operating in the West Bank — arresting terrorists and shutting down rocket factories — then the security situation in the West Bank could devolve into the nightmare that we see in Gaza, with rockets being fired at Israeli towns and cities, and even at Israel’s airport. Then what?
  • If the IDF stops overseeing security in the West Bank, what if al Qaeda and Hamas and other jihadist groups (such as the 30,000 jihadists that are operating in Syria right now) turn the territory into yet another base camp for suicide bombers and other forms of terrorism?
  • What if Christian holy sites in Jerusalem are turned over the Palestinian Authority, but Hamas eventually comes to power? Will Christian tourists feel safe visiting those sites under Hamas supervision? Would the Hamas government even allow Christian tourists to visit?
  • The “framework agreement” reportedly would put 75% to 80% of Israeli Jewish settlements in the West Bank under Palestinian control. Would the Jews living in the rest of the settlements be safe in such a scenario?

That said, you and I have not actually seen the Obama/Kerry plan yet. There is no need to rush to judgment. We’ll see all the details soon enough. I just want you to be aware of the dynamic, and the tensions that are building.

Like many of you, I am praying for peace. I want Israelis and Palestinians to live in freedom, security, prosperity and with full religious freedom. 

I don’t want to be a cynic. But I must be honest — I am skeptical.

The interim agreement this administration just struck with Iran — on the way to a full, comprehensive agreement — is a terrible deal. Dangerous for the U.S. Dangerous for Israel. Dangerous for all our allies in the Middle East.

Will this interim deal be similarly flawed, or even dangerous? Time will tell. But there are real reasons to be concerned. Let that drive us to prayer all the more.

What’s the latest with the “framework agreement”? Here are excerpts from useful story published by the Times of Israel:

  • “The Obama administration will soon present a framework for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that the sides may accept with reservations as a basis for a final deal by year’s end, the top US negotiator told Jewish leaders.
  • Martin Indyk, the State Department’s lead envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, told the Jewish leaders on Thursday that under the framework agreement about 75-80 percent of settlers would remain in what would become Israeli sovereign territory through land swaps; he added that it was his impression that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not averse to allowing settlers who want to remain as citizens of the Palestinian state.
  • This was because Indyk and Secretary of State John Kerry consulted closely with the leaders of both governments as Indyk’s team drafted the agreement.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas would be expected to accept the agreement, with reservations, as the basis of continued negotiations, Indyk apparently said.
  • Making it a US-drafted framework permitted the leaders to distance themselves from politically sensitive issues, Indyk said. “There may be things we need to say because they can’t say them yet,” he said, according to the notes of one participant.
  • Broadly, Indyk said, the agreement will address: mutual recognition; security, land swaps and borders; Jerusalem; refugees; and the end of conflict and all claims.
  • A request for comment from the State Department was not returned.
  • On some sensitive issues — particularly the status of Jerusalem — the framework would be vague, but Indyk went into detail on other issues that participants said was surprising.
  • Among these was the security arrangement for the border between Jordan and the West Bank: Indyk said a new security zone would be created, with new fences, sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles.
  • Indyk also said that the framework would address compensation for Jews from Arab lands as well as compensation for Palestinian refugees — another longstanding demand by some pro-Israel groups but one that has yet to be included in any formal document.
  • He said that the framework would describe “Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the nation state of the Palestinian people,” a nod to a key demand by the Netanyahu government that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state.
  • He said the framework would address the issue of incitement and Palestinian education for peace.

Syria has given up only 5% of chemical weapons, sources say. Could it wind up in al-Qaeda’s hands?

UN weapons inspectors in Syria. (photo: AP)

UN weapons inspectors in Syria. (photo: AP)

In 2013, a U.S. and Allied military attack on Syria was averted at the last moment by a Russian-negotiated deal. The Assad regime promised to disclose all of its WMD sites and have U.N. weapons inspectors remove 100% of Syria’s chemical weapons on a specific timetable.

But months after the deal was struck, Reuters reports that Syria has only given up 5% of its stockpile, and will miss yet another critical deadline.

Meanwhile, the danger remains that al Qaeda or other Radical jihadist forces could seize some of the chemical weapons.

Let’s pray that doesn’t happen, and leave that for a future political thriller. But here are the latest details.

Excerpts from a Reuters story:

  • “Syria has given up less than 5 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal and will miss next week’s deadline to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
  • The deliveries, in two shipments this month to the northern Syrian port of Latakia, totalled 4.1 percent of the roughly 1,300 tonnes of toxic agents reported by Damascus to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
  • “It’s not enough and there is no sign of more,” one source briefed on the situation said.
  • The internationally backed operation, overseen by a joint OPCW-United Nations mission, is now 6-8 weeks behind schedule. Damascus needs to show it is still serious about relinquishing its chemical weapons, the sources told Reuters….
  • Failure to eliminate its chemical weapons could expose Syria to sanctions, although these would have to be supported in the UN Security Council by Russia and China, which have so far refused to back such measures against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
  • The deal under which Syria undertook to eliminate its chemical arsenal stopped the United States and its allies from launching bombing raids to punish Assad for a chemical attack last August and made clear the limits to international action against him.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested in a report to the Security Council this week that shipments had been unnecessarily delayed and urged the Syrian government to speed up the process….
  • Under a deal agreed by Russia and the United States after the August 21 sarin gas attack, Syria vowed to give up its entire stockpile by mid-2014. The rocket attacks in the outskirts of Damascus killed hundreds, including women and children.
  • Eradicating Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, including sarin, mustard gas and VX, requires massive foreign funding and logistical support.
  • The bulk of the most toxic substances are to be destroyed on the Cape Ray, a U.S. cargo ship now en route to the Mediterranean that will be loaded with the chemicals at an Italian port. The remainder will go to several commercial waste processing facilities, including in Britain and Germany.

GAME-CHANGER: U.S. intelligence assessment says Iran can now build and deliver nukes. Now what?

An Iranian worker at the Uranium Conversion Facility at Isfahan, 410 kilometers, south of Tehran. The conversion facility in Isfahan reprocesses uranium ore concentrate, known as yellowcake, into uranium hexaflouride gas. The gas is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment. (photo credit: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi/Times of Israel)

An Iranian worker at the Uranium Conversion Facility at Isfahan, 410 kilometers, south of Tehran. The conversion facility in Isfahan reprocesses uranium ore concentrate, known as yellowcake, into uranium hexaflouride gas. The gas is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment. (photo credit: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi/Times of Israel)

(Washington, D.C.) — In a game-changing development, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence delivered Senate testimony on Wednesday stating that the Iranian regime has all the scientific and technical information, industrial infrastructure and practical know-how to build nuclear weapons. The Director said Iran also has ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads against regional actors, including Israel, and is developing long-range missiles capable of hitting the United States.

The long-expected and long-feared news does not mean Iran has operational nuclear weapons yet — at least U.S. intelligence doesn’t think they have them yet — but Washington now believes that once the Ayatollah makes the political decision to build them his scientists and engineers will be fully able to carry out his orders.

The sobering news comes one day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the P5+1 deal with Iran merely set back the Iranian nuclear weapons program by six weeks.

“Although there are internal disagreements in Iran, there is no dispute in the regime about developing nuclear weapons and the goal of wiping Israel off the map,” Netanyahu told the crowd at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, reported the Times of Israel. “This agreement merely set Iran back six weeks — no more — according to our assessments, in relation to its previous position, so that the test, as to denying Iran the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons, has been and remains the permanent agreement, if such [a deal] can indeed be achieved.”

The big question is: Now what — will the U.S. or Europe take decisive action to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat, will Israel, or will Iran be allowed to build The Bomb unimpeded?

There seems little evidence the U.S. will attack Iran in 2014, given how deeply invested the Obama administration is in this newly negotiated deal with Iran. Europe won’t act on its own. Does that mean Netanyahu will, or as the deal tied his hands for the foreseeable future?

“Iran now has all the technical infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons should it make the political decision to do, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote in a report to a Senate intelligence committee published Wednesday,” noted a separate Times of Israel report. “However, he added, it could not break out to the bomb without being detected.”

In the “US Intelligence Worldwide Threat Assessment,” delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Clapper reported that Tehran has made significant advances recently in its nuclear program to the point where it could produce and deliver nuclear bombs should it be so inclined.

  • “Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas — including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and ballistic missiles — from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons,” Clapper wrote. “These technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.”
  • In the past year alone, the report states, Iran has enhanced its centrifuge designs, increased the number of centrifuges, and amassed a larger quantity of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride. These advancements have placed Iran in a better position to produce weapons-grade uranium.
  • “Despite this progress, we assess that Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded material and produce enough WGU [weapons grade uranium] for a weapon before such activity would be discovered,” he wrote….
  • Clapper told the Senate committee that the interim deal will have an impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program’s progress and “gets at the key thing we’re interested in and most concerned about,” namely, Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium.
  • Iran had also worked hard to advance its program at the Arak heavy water facility, wrote Clapper. Its ballistic missiles, he noted, of which it has “the largest inventory in the Middle East,” are “inherently capable of delivering WMD.” And its space program gives it the means to develop longer-range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.
  • “We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons,” Clapper wrote. But he noted that Iran’s overarching “strategic goals” were leading it to pursue the capability to do so.
  • The national intelligence director reiterated that imposing additional sanctions against Iran would be “counterproductive” and would “jeopardize the [interim] agreement.” He advised that additional sanctions against the Islamic Republic should only be kept “in reserve.”
  • “This agreement merely set Iran back six weeks — no more — according to our assessments, in relation to its previous position, so that the test, as to denying Iran the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons, has been and remains the permanent agreement, if such [a deal] can indeed be achieved,” Netanyahu said at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
  • Last Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the Obama administration of mischaracterizing the terms of an interim nuclear deal. “We did not agree to dismantle anything,” Zarif told CNN.

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New polls find Americans prefer military strike to nuclear Iran, deeply skeptical of President’s approach towards Iran.

U.S. President Obama delivers remarks at the White House in Washington(Washington, D.C.) — Americans are losing confidence in President Obama’s policy towards Iran, and when push comes to shove prefer a military strike to allowing Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Only 42% of Americans approve of the President’s approach towards Iran, a drop since December, finds a new AP poll released Tuesday.

What’s more, fewer than half the country believes the recent nuclear deal with Iran will work. A CNN anchor recently called the deal “a train wreck.”

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Obama insisted his Iran policy was working. He even vowed to veto a bill imposing new economic sanctions on Iran that is working its way through Congress.

“The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it,” the President told a Joint Session of Congress.

Yet another new poll released Tuesday finds that Americans strongly support sanctions on Iran, want more sanctions, are skeptical of the nuclear deal the President struck with Iran and don’t believe Iran will keep its end of the bargain.

“A new poll revealed Tuesday that one of the foreign policy achievements that US President Barack Obama is likely to tout – the interim agreement with Iran – may not enjoy broad support among the voting public,” reports the Times of Israel. “According to the study, conducted by the Mellman Group for the Israel Project, while a slim majority of Americans support the deal, a larger number of likely voters wish that sanctions relief had only been granted after Iran dismantles its entire nuclear program.”

“The poll also indicated that for most Americans, preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a ‘higher priority than preventing military action,’ said pollster Mark Mellman,” the Times noted. “The American public, he added, was “overwhelmingly negative in terms of how the administration handled Iran,” with 66% of likely voters polled giving the president a negative evaluation on his Iran policy. The poll surveyed 800 likely voters nationwide, and has a 3.5% margin of error.

  • When asked which is more dangerous for the US – allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons or to carry out targeted military strikes against Iran — 54% answered that allowing Iran to develop nuclear capacity was a greater danger.
  • When asked again about which are most important goals for the US in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, 68% selected “preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons even if it means launching military strikes” in comparison with slightly over 30% who answered avoiding military strikes even if it allows Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
  • The interim agreement with Iran, considered by the administration to be a significant foreign policy milestone of Obama’s second term, was greeted by coolly by voters. When offered a description of the agreement, 55% said that they favored it, while 37% said that they opposed it. Among voters who said that they were already familiar with the agreement, opposition to the deal rose by about 10 points.
  • Despite the moderated support for the agreement, 57% of those polled said that US should have forced Iran to abandon its entire nuclear program before releasing sanctions.
  • Mellman also found that US voters were cynical as to the future of the agreement – only 35% thought it was at all likely that Iran would live up to the agreement.
  • Americans, Mellman found, overwhelmingly support economic sanctions against Tehran in a bipartisan manner – 83% of Democrats and 89% of Republicans said that they supported the sanctions. Fewer than 20% of respondents said that they wanted the sanctions reduced, while 38% said they wanted to see them strengthened….
  • Sixty-two percent of those polled said that they supported the demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear infrastructure before receiving any sanctions relief when that position was juxtaposed with the agreement currently in place, in which sanctions are lifted as part of a gradual process.

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Are we praying for our leaders at this time of crisis? Or are we sniping at them? A few thoughts on the importance of prayer.

prayerLast night, the President delivered his annual “State of the Union” address. Some of you loved it. Some of you were infuriated. Some of you ignored it. Many of you feel deeply pessimistic about the direction our country is heading and powerless to make things better. I share your concerns.

However, the Scriptures tell us we are not powerless, and that we serve an Almighty God.

  • “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1)
  • “Nothing will be impossible for God.” (Luke 1:37)
  • “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)

As Christians, we know the Lord is sovereign — and this sovereign God commands us in the Scriptures to pray for our leaders.

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity,” the Apostle Paul wrote in I Timothy 2:1-3. “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Whether we agree with them or not — whether we like them are not — we are to pray for wisdom and discernment so our leaders can distinguish truth from error, fact from fiction. We are to pray for patience and for courage for our leaders, so they don’t act rashly, but that they act with determination when the time is right. We are to pray that they govern well, protecting life and liberty, above all. We should also pray that they turn to the God of the Bible in prayer, as well, to receive “wisdom from above” and not earthly wisdom (see James chapter three).

new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reveals “deep pessimism” among the American people about the current status and the future of the country.

  • Only 28 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction
  • 63 percent say America on the wrong track
  • 71 percent are dissatisfied with the state of the economy

How are you doing this week? Are you praying faithfully for President Obama and his national security and foreign policy team? Are you praying for leaders in Congress, and in our military? Or in frustration and despair are you sniping at them and complaining?

Weighty decisions lie before our leaders. When it comes to 55 million abortions, and a $17 trillion debt, and so many Americans without jobs and health care and adequate retirement savings, and Iran getting close to nuclear weapons, and tensions in the Korean Peninsula, among so many other challenges, the fate of many lies in the balance.

I am encouraged to see many people telling me they are praying seriously and faithfully. Yet in tracking my email and Facebook and Twitter traffic, I see many people sniping at our leaders, taking potshots at them, and making snarky, cynical, unkind, un-Christian statements.

Is that you? Hopefully not. But if it is, make a change. Ask the Lord to forgive  you for disobeying him and having an ungodly approach towards  your government leaders. He will forgive you (see I John 1:9).

Let me encourage you. Start praying daily — indeed, several times a day — for your leaders, according to the Scriptures. Pray for them in the morning with your family. Pray for them in the evening at dinner, and before you go to bed.

  • Pray for Him to turn this nation around, and get us back on the right track.
  • Pray for the Lord to grant us in His mercy a Third Great Awakening.
  • Pray for the Lord to end abortion in America and forgive us of this terrible sin.
  • Ask the Lord to show you what else to pray for, and to pray according to His will, not your own.

Our God is a prayer-hearing, and prayer-answering God, a wonder-working God. Let’s look to Him and trust Him more, especially in such dark times.

Remember:

  • “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:6)
  • “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
  • “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
  • “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
  • “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).
  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
  • “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
  • “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3)
  • “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8).
  • “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”‘” (Luke 18:9-14).
  • “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins’” (Mark 11:22-25).
  • “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14).

State of the Union? Only 3% of Americans say it is “strong.” Here’s why.

capitol-blue(Washington, D.C.) — In 2012, President Obama concluded the State of the Union address by saying, “The state of our Union will always be strong.”

In 2013, the President told Congress and the nation, “We can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.”

Will he say it again tonight? More importantly, is it true?

A new poll finds only 3% of Americans believe the state of our union is “strong.”

Here are some of the reasons why:

  • We are giving our children and grandchildren more than $17 trillion in federal debt, and it just keeps climbing and climbing with no end in sight and no plan to pay it down.
  • We have aborted some 55 million babies since 1973, and many Americans seem to believe there will be no consequences.
  • We are deeply worried about widespread drug and alcohol abuse, a wave of violent crime and mass shootings, the loss of moral values among our children, and a serious decline in confidence in major institutions, including the presidency, Congress, and the Church.

Is it any surprise, then, that a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reveals “deep pessimism” among the American people about the current status and the future of the country?

  • Only 28 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction
  • 63 percent say America on the wrong track
  • 71 percent are dissatisfied with the state of the economy
  • 68 percent of Americans say the country is either stagnant or worse off since the President took office in 2009
  • Only 31 percent say the country is better off.
  • Again, only 3% of Americans say the state of our union is “strong.”
  • “A deep pessimism continues to fuel the public’s mood,” notes Mark Murray of NBC News who wrote the story.

The central question we need to be asking as a nation is this: Is America headed towards implosion, or a Third Great Awakening?

Yes, we need strong, principled leaders with deep convictions who will return us to the Biblical principles that our Founders wove into the Constitution. This election season will give us the opportunity to choose new Congressional leaders and many Governors and state legislators, as well. But even in the best case scenario, even if we elect the right people who are serious about making major reforms in Washington and have a track record of results, they will not be able to save this country alone.

We need so much more — we need the Lord to rescue us, to have mercy on us, before it’s too late. We need a series of spiritual revivals to break out in every region of the country to wake up a slumbering Church and reinvigorate pastors and lay people to preach the Gospel, make disciples, plant new churches, and care for the poor and needy with great boldness, courage and compassion. We saw God do this in America in the early 1700s with the first Great Awakening. We actually saw God do this again in the early 1800s with the Second Great Awakening. Now is the time to plead with the Lord for a Third Great Awakening.

>> To learn more about Implosion: Can America Recover From Its Economic & Spiritual Challenges In Time?, please click here.

Spielberg: We must act on what was learned from the Holocaust.

Steven Spielberg.

Steven Spielberg.

“Oscar-winning film director, writer and producer Steven Spielberg stressed on Monday the importance of gathering testimony to horrors such as the Holocaust in order to create awareness and preventative measures for the future,” reports the Jerusalem Post.

“Mass graves don’t have to open up before we act,” Spielberg said in the keynote address of a special UN General Assembly session marking the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Post reported. “It is a great accomplishment of our species that the testimonies [of survivors] can be heard in the high chambers of society.”

“The director of the epic Holocaust-era film Schindler’s List said the memory of the Holocaust remained with us today and the victims of past genocide had now become ‘teachers to victims of recent genocide,'” noted the Post.

“Genocide is an evil,” Spielberg said. “But, the greatest evil is when people who have been spared the horrors commit themselves to despair. We know despair and remembering are a choice. But we need to confront and act on what we learned.”

Additional excerpts from the article:

  • Touching on his preparations for Schindler’s List, Spielberg said directing the film and interviewing survivors were part of his approach to offering a platform for what he said was an often-encountered hope of survivors to be “heard, believed and understood”.
  • “It took me years of directing sharks, aliens, and dinosaurs before I felt ready to tackle the Holocaust,” he admitted.
  • Spielberg said although he had no personal journey through the Holocaust, his “Holocaust journey is a journey toward understanding.”
  • Spielberg said history and the memory of the Holocaust must be engaged with fully to progress justice.
  • This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, which was founded by Spielberg following the filming of Schindler’s List. The USC Shoah Foundation Institute is a long-standing partner of the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Program.

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>> New novel, “The Auschwitz Escape,” will release March 18th. Inspired by true story of the greatest escape of all-time learn more, or pre-order here.

Who to watch in 2014 — #4: Egyptian army chief al-Sisi. He’s set to announce presidential bid in 72 hours.

Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Photo: Reuters)

Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Photo: Reuters)

(Washington, D.C.) — This is the fourth in a series of columns on key leaders in the epicenter we should be keeping an eye on in 2014.

1) The first leader on my list was Jordan’s King Abdullah II — a fascinating Arab Reformer, the son of a bold Reformer, actively trying to lead his small, resource-poor, but vitally important nation towards progress and freedom, tolerance and modernity in a very tough neighborhood. The Big Questions: Will he play a key role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 2014? Will he also continue to protect himself and his nation from the Radical forces that want his head?

2) The second leader was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — a cruel dictator, the son of a cruel dictator, who is massacring his people as he presides over the implosion of a country engulfed in civil war. The Big Questions: Will he survive through  2014? Or are we seeing the end of his regime and the Syrian geopolitical state as we have known it?

3) The third leader was Ayman al-Zawahiri — a fanatical, Radical leader of al Qaeda who is Hell-bent on eradicating Jews, Christians and other ”infidels” in the epicenter and establishing an Islamic state throughout the Middle East, no matter what the cost in blood and treasure.

4) The fourth  leader on my list is Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — he is Egypt’s military chief who is reportedly now set to run for the president of Egypt in the April national elections.

In recent months, Al-Sisi has:

  • boldly toppled the Radical regime of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3, 2013
  • outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and jailed many of its leaders
  • fought the Brotherhood in the streets of Egypt
  • declared a ferocious war on the lawless jihadists operating in the Sinai desert
  • shut down many of the smuggling tunnels connecting the Sinai to the Gaza Strip
  • committed himself to cutting off the arms and money flowing to the Hamas terror group operating in Gaza

It’s still not clear to me what al-Sisi’s long-term goals and motives are. It remains to be seen whether he will prove to be a true blessing for the people of Egypt over the long haul, a friendly and useful partner of the U.S. and the Western alliance, a peaceful neighbor to Israel, and a counterweight to an aggressive and hostile rising Iranian regime. Only time will tell.

But let’s be clear: though it was not pretty (indeed, it has at times been quite bloody), al-Sisi’s actions saved Egypt from being suffocated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and inasmuch as he has declared war on Radical Muslim forces in the Sinai, he has — so far, at least — been a force for security and stability in the Egypt-Israel relationship.

President Obama strongly condemned al-Sisi and his military forces when they liberated Egypt from the cruel grip of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. The administration also severely cut military aid to Egypt, which totals $1.3 billion annually.

I believe the President was wrong. Yes, I, too, am not generally comfortable when a military steps in to overturn a democratic election. Yes, I, too, want to see a healthy, fair, functioning Jeffersonian democracy in Egypt, along with a vibrant, growing free market economy that is creating millions of jobs and growing the wages of average Egyptians. Like many Christians, I want to see Egyptian believers protected from persecution, and to see the Church growing and strong. But the Muslim Brotherhood’s power grab was not going to achieve any of these things. Egyptians knew the Brotherhood was hijacking their country. That’s why in 2013 22 million of Egyptians signed petitions demanding Morsi and his cronies leave at once.

At this stage, the U.S. should continue to work closely with al-Sisi and the Egyptian military. Several vital U.S. national interests are at stake, and returning power to the Brotherhood is not one of them.

John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., did an excellent job explaining our interests in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal last August. Excerpts:

The U.S. should support the military because even with its obvious flaws, it is more likely to support the palpable U.S. interests at stake. Three are basic.

  1. First, it is in the U.S. interest to have an Egyptian government committed to upholding the Camp David Accords with Israel, the foundation of U.S. Middle East policy since 1979. The Muslim Brotherhood assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981 for negotiating Camp David, and it has never accepted it. Mr. Morsi foreshadowed abrogating or gutting Camp David as soon as practicable during his presidential campaign. With Iran nearing its long-sought nuclear capability, America and Israel would be worse off than before 1979. The U.S. is doing little to stop Iran, but we can still save Camp David. Backing Egypt’s military is the best bet.
  2. Second, and closely related: If the Sinai Peninsula slips from Cairo’s control, terrorists like Hamas (a Brotherhood subsidiary) and al Qaeda will use the area as a haven and a highway for smuggling arms to Gaza for use against Israel and to both sides in the Syrian civil war. Egypt’s army is far more likely to prevent this nightmare scenario than the Brotherhood.
  3. Third, for purely economic reasons, the Suez Canal must remain open. Annually, some 14% of global shipping and 30% of oil supplies pass through the canal. The Brotherhood is far more susceptible to suicidal impulses if it means harming the West. Egypt’s military does not prize martyrdom.

For these reasons and more, the U.S. should continue providing military assistance, which hopefully still provides some measure of continuing leverage. Three decades of affording Egypt’s office corps with military training has created powerful connections that cutting off aid would irreparably damage. America’s $1.3 billion in annual military aid is minimal compared to what the Saudis could provide in the U.S.’s absence, but its political symbolism remains important. Moreover, the U.S. should worry about an opportunistic Vladimir Putin stepping in to fill its shoes, eager to reverse Moscow’s historic setback when Sadat expelled the Soviets from Egypt.

As 2014 begins, then, al-Sisi is a man to keep an eye on.

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RESOURCES:

To that end, here are a few helpful articles that have been published recently:

Excerpts from a Reuters report:

  • Judicial sources from the High Elections Commission said that Egyptian presidential elections are likely to be held in mid to late April.
  • Regarding the possibility that army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will run for president, he should resign before the High Elections Commission calls on voters to go to the polls, the sources said according to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri Al-Youm on Sunday.
  • Egypt’s military council has given the army chief, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a green light to run for president, a security source told Reuters.
  • “The top army officials all okayed Sisi running for the presidency,” said the source. Sisi is expected to announce his candidacy within days.
  • Sisi deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July, triggering political upheaval and street violence in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
  • Since then he has become hugely popular among Egyptians, who see him as a decisive figure who can stabilize the country which has lurched from one crisis to another since a popular uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
  • Hours before the top generals approved Sisi contesting the election, the presidency announced he had been promoted to field marshal from general, in what security officials said was a sign he is about to declare his candidacy for the presidency.
  • “The decision was expected and it is the first step before the resignation of the general and his candidacy announcement which is now expected very soon,” said a security official.
  • On Sunday, Interim President Adly Mansour issued a decree, stating that presidential elections would be held before parliamentary ones, chaining the political roadmap set out by the interim government.
  • Sisi is set to announce his candidacy in the next 72 hours, likely on Wednesday, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported.

Netanyahu: World is not doing enough to prevent a new Holocaust.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz in a meeting on January 27, 2014. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz in a meeting on January 27, 2014. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90/Times of Israel)

>> Report: More than 1,000 Holocaust survivors die every month

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday berated the international community for showing indifference to the threat posed by Iran, comparing Tehran to the Nazi regime and implying that the world was not fulfilling its obligation to prevent a second Jewish holocaust,” reported the Times of Israel.

“Even today, when there is broad agreement that the Holocaust should have been prevented, the world is not crying out in the face of a regime that calls for our destruction and even receives with open arms the man who represents it,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “In the face of a state that openly calls for the destruction of the state of the Jews, everyone clears their throat in the face of the smiles. The attitude toward the State of Israel is not proportionate to the issues that are on the agenda. It also shows us that in the harassment of Jews there is thousands of years of continuity to the phenomenon of anti-Semitism.”

“Last week the Knesset witnessed one of the most important speeches that have ever been made within its walls,” Netanyahu continued in a prepared statement. “In this speech, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that the singling out of the State of Israel is extreme and disproportionate by any reasonable standard, that it also undermines the foundations of Western civilization which is supposed to fight for both our rights and those of others. Against the attempt to deny the legitimacy of the state of the Jews, we must fight for and demand our rights.”

President Shimon Peres called on the world “not be satisfied by condemning the Holocaust but rather join our hearts and hands to ensure that we live in a world where another Holocaust is impossible,” the Times reported. “The Holocaust is a great warning to us all. Forgetfulness is a menace, we must remember and remember to love and respect everyone no matter the color of their skin or the origin of their birth. Moses taught us that every human being was made in the image of the Lord; no one has the right to take that away. We have a duty to remember the past but also to improve the future; this is not just a memorial day but a call to us all to move ahead, never forgetting the past but never losing hope in the future.”

>> New novel, “The Auschwitz Escape,” will release March 18th. Inspired by true story of the greatest escape of all-time learn more, or pre-order here.