A former counter-terrorism analyst for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Jonathan Schanzer, briefed local AIPAC members on the current state of Middle East foreign policy on Monday, May 2 at an event open to the community at the Hotel Monaco.
Schanzer serves as the vice president of research for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonprofit policy institute founded in 2001 that focuses on foreign policy and national security. He is the author of “Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine,” a chronicle of the Palestinian civil war, and the recently published “State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State.”
“Right now it is a particularly volatile time in the Middle East,” Schanzer said in a phone interview prior to his arrival in Pittsburgh. “Israel is faced with many threats but maybe a few opportunities as well.”
He said his planned remarks to Pittsburgh’s AIPAC chapter would reflect issues of concern to the FDD and would be tailored to an audience “that generally knows more than a general audience,” he said.
Schanzer expected to speak about the threat of another war between Israel and Hamas and explain the current state of the Gaza-based terrorist organization.
“Hamas is a mixed bag,” Schanzer said. “Hamas has replenished many of its rockets from 2014, but on the other hand, there has been a degrading of its financial operations.”
A potentially bigger threat to Israel, he said, is Hezbollah.
“There has not been a lot of press about Hezbollah because it’s been quiet,” he said. “A lot of people think that Hezbollah is bogged down fighting for the Assad regime [in Syria].”
Hezbollah, however, has been able to smuggle weapons through Syria, Schanzer said, and has increased its arsenal of rockets in the last six months from 150,000 to 400,000. The rockets, he said, come primarily from Iran.
“That should be very concerning,” Schanzer said. “Hezbollah and Israel are already a few years overdue for a conflict; they usually have one about every six years.”
In addition to the rockets, Hezbollah has also increased its arsenal of a “range of advanced weapons.”
Several “senior Israeli officials,” Schanzer said, are warning of the seriousness of a potential conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.
Schanzer also planned to discuss the current situation in Syria with his AIPAC audience and the fighting which is occurring there between al-Qaeda and ISIS against Hezbollah, Assad and Iran.
“We’re looking at 400,000 deaths out of Syria,” Schanzer said. “That is an astounding and shocking number. And it’s not an American value or an Israeli value or a Jewish value to just stand by.”
Another issue coming out of Syria, he said, is the predicament arising when one side ultimately wins.
“There are no good sides here,” according to Schanzer. “No one is least bad. Al-Qaeda is not beheading people, but it’s still al- Qaeda. And if the Iranians win, that is not a good outcome.”
Schanzer anticipated fielding questions from his audience regarding the Palestinian/Israeli peace process, the boycott divestment and sanctions movement and Iran.
“On that score (Iran),” he said, “I will stress the serious lingering concerns we have as a result of the Iranian nuclear deal.”
Schanzer pointed out that the deal effectively authorized the release of $100 billion to “the coffers of terrorist groups.”
Other faults of the deal, he said, include the fact that after eight years, Iran’s ballistic missile ban will be lifted and that in “12 to 15 years, Iran will be in possession of a fully industrial size nuclear program, so we will be back to where we started.”
The Israelis are well aware that “some very tough choices are waiting for them,” said Schanzer.
“Some decisions will have to be deferred until after the Obama administration,” he explained. “From Netanyahu’s perspective, it’s clear he simply can outlast the Obama administration. … It’s a relief knowing there is less than a year left.”
The FDD is keeping its eye on two main issues concerning the U.S./Israel relationship during these final months of the Obama administration: reaching an agreement regarding future U.S. military assistance to Israel; and whether or not the current administration will back a Palestinian initiative at the United Nations that would allow the international community to set up the parameters of an agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.
“There is a fear that the administration might agree to this resolution and put Israel in a difficult position,” Schanzer said.
The AIPAC event also included a panel discussion entitled “United We Stand,” featuring two non-Jews who have become AIPAC supporters through visits to Israel, as well as Rabbi Alex Greenbaum, spiritual leader of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.