By Steven Erlanger, Published in The New York Times, 30 December 2016
LONDON — Even the so-called special relationship is subject to limits, it seems.
With a Republican administration under Donald J. Trump only weeks away, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain scolded Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday night for his speech criticizing Israel — a public jab that would have been highly unlikely any other time during the Obama administration.
In a statement that echoed Mr. Trump’s fierce criticism of the Obama administration, Mrs. May chided Mr. Kerry for, among other things, describing the Israeli government as the “most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.” READ MORE
"In an opinion piece in The Guardian newspaper, Azriel Bermant, a lecturer in international relations at Tel Aviv University, suggested that, by criticizing Mr. Kerry and currying favor with both Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu, Mrs. May may be hoping to, as Mr. Darroch suggested, persuade Mr. Trump to act more moderately in the Middle East and support the two-state solution that Mr. Kerry was defending.
By Azriel Bermant, Published in The Guardian on Friday 30 December 2016
What was Theresa May thinking in attacking the US secretary of state John Kerry’s address on the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Her spokesman said on Thursday: “We do not ... believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex.”
This is extraordinary. Why would May attack Kerry for suggesting that settlements were the main obstacle to peace? Did she read his speech? In it, he stated that “settlements are not the whole or even the primary cause of this conflict” and strongly condemned terrorism and incitement against Israel. More extraordinary still, why would the British prime minister criticise Kerry when her own government played a leading role in the passing of UN security council resolution 2334 which condemned Israel over its settlement expansion? Kerry ordered the United States to abstain while May’s government voted in favour... READ MORE
By Azriel Bermant and Igor Sutyagin, Published in The National Interest, December 5, 2016
On 18 November, Vladimir Putin issued a warning that Russia considered missile defense and Prompt Global Strike as threats to its security, and would work hard to neutralise them. Viktor Ozerov, Chairman of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee, went further in an interview with the RIA Novosti Russian news agency on Nov. 21, warning of Russian efforts to improve its offensive capabilities to deal with NATO’s missile defense installations. Ozerov specifically mentioned air-to-surface missiles capable of penetrating US air defenses in Europe. In the meantime, the Russian military has placed Bastion missile launchers in Kaliningrad, the exclave bordering NATO members Poland and Lithuania. This could threaten the prospective NATO missile defense site in Poland.
Remarkably, with all the controversy surrounding Trump’s remarks on NATO and the Baltic States during the presidential election campaign, barely a word was heard about the missile defense system. This is surprising for a number of reasons... READ MORE
By Azriel Bermant, Published in The JC, December 1, 2016
In 1981, the British band Heaven 17 released a single called Fascist Groove Thang. The song, a fierce attack on Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, described the US President-elect as a "fascist god in motion" , bewailing "evil men with racist views spreading all across the land" and "Democrats out of power across that great wide ocean." Sounds familiar? The BBC banned it from the airwaves citing legal concerns. Thirty five years on, with Donald Trump as President-elect, the world is crying out for Reagan. After his election victory, Trump remarked that he was looking forward to having the same relationship with Theresa May, Britain's Prime Minister, that Reagan had once enjoyed with Thatcher. A Trump visit to Britain may take place next summer.
There are some interesting- if eerie - similarities between the situation in 1979/1980 when Thatcher and Reagan came to power and the state of the world today. READ MORE
By Azriel Bermant
Published in Cambridge Core on November 8 2016
With just a few hours to go before the announcement of the new US president, one of the many remarkable aspects of the campaign is how the Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton, is the candidate standing up for conservative principles rather than her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. The Republican nominee has actively opposed free trade, questioned the value of NATO and expressed unflinching admiration for Vladimir Putin. David Frum, George W. Bush’s former speechwriter, has highlighted this absurdity in the Atlantic, making a courageous and powerful case for Clinton.
By Azriel Bermant
Published in The National Interest on October 12, 2016
As the Obama era draws to a close, how will history judge the administration’s Middle East policy? The bloodletting in Syria, the growing sectarian tensions in the region and the continued stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suggest that the verdict will not be too kind. Yet history also warns us of the dangers of drawing rash conclusions.
After all, twenty-eight years have passed since Ronald Reagan departed the White House. He is still hailed by many Americans as the leader who ended the Cold War, yet remarkably few have drawn attention to his dismal record in the Middle East. Poignantly, the recent passing of Israel’s elder statesman, Shimon Peres, presents an opportunity to revisit an episode which casts the Reagan administration in a new light. READ MORE
Published in The Telegraph UK, 28 September 2016
Shimon Peres, Israel’s elder statesman, who died early on Wednesday at the age of 93, served his country with distinction for almost seventy years.
Peres was a flawed visionary and beset by contradictions: he was determined to achieve peace with Israel’s Arab neighbours, but couldn’t shake off the hawkish instincts he had developed as the protégé of Israel’s veteran statesman, David Ben Gurion. He was bold and far-sighted in seeking an agreement with Jordan’s King Hussein in 1987, but his caution undermined it. Peres was greatly distrusted both by his colleagues within the Labour party, his rivals in the Likud and the wider Israeli public. In his memoirs, Yitzhak Rabin described Peres as “the indefatigable subverter.” READ MORE
By Azriel Bermant
Published in Haaretz on July 29, 2016
This week, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki, representing President Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the Arab League Summit in Mauritania and asked them to join in preparing to sue the British government. The cause: The 100-year-old letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild regarding the British cabinet’s support for the "establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."
Malki explained: "Almost a century has passed since 1917… We are working to open up an international criminal case for the crime which they committed against our nation – from the days of the British Mandate all the way to the massacre which was carried out against us from 1948 onwards.” Later on in the week, the demand was scaled down to the request for a formal U.K. apology to the Palestinians.
In January 2013, when David Cameron first proposed the referendum on Britain’s future in the European Union, in order to pacify Eurosceptics within his ruling Conservative party, he could scarcely have imagined that Turkey would play such a prominent role in the campaign.
The concerns of the British public over the possibility of “an invasion of Turkish migrants” were exploited by the ‘leave’ camp as a means to strengthen support for a withdrawal from the EU, amid heightened anxiety within Britain and in Europe as a whole over the migrant crisis. It was claimed that continued British membership of the EU would lead to a loss of control over the number of migrants entering the United Kingdom. The March 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey on migration was held up as a perfect case in point. The Brexit campaigners pointed to a clause in the agreement referring to talks on new chapters in the possible Turkish accession process to the EU as evidence that Ankara would eventually join the EU, even though most experts argue that this is highly unlikely.
The ‘leave’ campaign also claimed that negotiations between the EU and Turkey over visa exemptions for Turkish citizens would pose a grave security threat, with Britain exposed to a wave of terrorists travelling from Syria and Iraq, in spite of the fact that no more than 14 per cent of Turkish citizens hold a passport....................................................................................................READ MORE
By Azriel Bermant
Published in The JC on July 28, 2016
In an interview with the New York Times last Thursday, Donald Trump remarked that he would not automatically give support to vulnerable members of Nato in the event of a Russian attack.
The implication is that the United States cannot risk its involvement in a dangerous war with Russia to protect distant allies if there is little at stake for the American people.
This is consistent with Trump's isolationist outlook and his apparent hostility to US engagements overseas, suggesting that on foreign policy, he is effectively in the paleoconservative camp.
In recent weeks Trump has gone out of his way to express his support for Israel, applauding settlement building in the West Bank. The Republican Platform Committee has approved a proposal to bin the party's commitment to a two-state solution.
He had spoken just a few months earlier about the importance of being "neutral" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
More significantly, however, his numerous statements casting doubts over the future of Nato and his reluctance to pledge support for vulnerable members of the Alliance raise disturbing questions.
Trump's outspoken support for Israel appears to be at odds with his comments on Nato. Indeed, his remarks that US allies should pay up for their own security suggest that if he is elected, he could take US policy on Israel in the opposite direction.
Israel is the largest single recipient of American financial assistance but whether US largesse would continue under a Trump presidency is anyone's guess. What happens, for example, if the Iran deal falls through and there is a heightened risk of a dangerous confrontation with Tehran?
If Trump cannot support vulnerable democratic allies that are deserving of support in Eastern Europe, it is far from clear that he would come to Israel's aid if it is attacked.
If Trump were to halt US support for Nato's missile defence system in Europe, will he do the same for the Iron Dome, David's Sling and Arrow defence systems?
Trump's Jewish supporters point out that his daughter has converted to Judaism and married an observant Jew. But that provides no guarantees for Israel. What about those things that he has left unsaid?
Trump is a law unto himself. What he says today can be disavowed tomorrow.
Dr Azriel Bermant
Foreign Policy and International Security Analyst, Historian, Lecturer, Author