WSJ Reports On Iron Dome’s Development

DEBKAFile: “Israel’s operation was an intel coup to shut Iran’s gateway to Cairo via Hamas.”

— by David Streeter

In its story on the development of the Iron Dome missile defense system, The Wall Street Journal reported that President George W. Bush’s Administration gave a “frosty” response to the system when it was first brought to their attention.

Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system spent the past two weeks successfully blasting Hamas rockets out of the sky-many in dramatic nighttime explosions-helping to end the recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas in just seven days.

The battle to build Iron Dome, however, lasted years and provided fireworks of its own….

Despite initial Pentagon misgivings, President Barack Obama has given $275 million to the project since 2010 with the aim of reducing the rocket threat and eventually bolstering chances of a peace deal by making Israel feel more secure to agree to territorial concessions.

For years, Pentagon experts dismissed Iron Dome as doomed to fail and urged Israel to instead try a cheaper U.S. approach. Iron Dome faced similar skepticism at home. But an Israeli mathematician-general, along with a labor-organizer-turned-defense-minister, pushed the project through, overcoming the opposition of some of Israel’s most powerful military voices….

Israel’s Defense Ministry approached the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush with a request for hundreds of millions of dollars for the system. The reception at the Pentagon was frosty, according to current and former U.S. defense officials.

Mary Beth Long, the assistant secretary of defense who oversaw the Iron Dome review process, sent a team of U.S. military engineers to Israel to meet with the developers. After the trip, in a meeting in her office, the team voiced skepticism about the technology, citing poor performance in initial testing, Ms. Long said in an interview.

Rafael’s Mr. Drucker recalls an even harsher U.S. response. He said the U.S. team told them: ‘This is something that cannot be done.’

Some U.S. military officials argued that Israel should instead consider using a version of the U.S.’s Vulcan Phalanx system, which the Army was deploying in Iraq to try to shoot down incoming rockets, current and former defense officials say. Gen. Gold’s team had already considered and dismissed the Phalanx system.

By the end of 2007, Mr. Olmert and Mr. Peretz’s successor as defense minister, Ehud Barak, had both come around to backing Iron Dome….

Iron Dome got a significant boost soon after President Obama came to office in 2009. Mr. Obama visited Sderot as a presidential candidate and told his aides to find a way to help boost Israel’s defenses from the makeshift rockets, his aides said, although defense officials at the time still doubted Iron Dome was the way.

As president, Mr. Obama tapped Colin Kahl to run the Pentagon office overseeing U.S. military policy in the Middle East. Mr. Kahl found the Iron Dome request on his desk, decided to take another look and had what he later described as a light-bulb moment. ‘Ding, ding, ding. It just made sense,’Mr. Kahl said….

At the direction of a White House working group headed by then-National Security Council senior director Dan Shapiro (who today is the U.S. ambassador to Israel), the Pentagon sent a team of missile-defense experts to Israel in September 2009 to re-evaluate Iron Dome. The decision raised eyebrows in some Pentagon circles. Iron Dome was still seen as a rival to the Phalanx system, and previous assessment teams had deemed Iron Dome inferior.

In its final report, presented to the White House in October, the team declared Iron Dome a success, and in many respects, superior to Phalanx. Tests showed it was hitting 80% of the targets, up from the low teens in the earlier U.S. assessment. ‘They came in and basically said, “This looks much more promising…than our system,”‘ said Dennis Ross, who at the time was one of Mr. Obama’s top Middle East advisers.

That summer, Mr. Kahl’s office drafted a policy paper recommending that the administration support the Israeli request for roughly $200 million in Iron Dome funding.

U.S.-Israel Relations After Obama’s Reelection

— by David Streeter

Ever since President Barack Obama was reelected last week, a number of people have speculated-and fear mongered-about the future of U.S.-Israel relations. In response, veteran pro-Israel activist Steve Sheffey dedicated this week’s edition of the Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update to debunking the fear mongering, which can be read here.

But beyond Sheffey’s analysis, some key items have occurred in the past few days that indicate the U.S.-Israel relationship will remain strong and healthy during President Obama’s second term:

  • Israeli leaders congratulated the President on his victory. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the “strategic alliance between Israel and the U.S. is stronger than ever” and told the President his election was “a vote of confidence in your leadership.”
  • On Sunday, President Obama urged the Palestinians to stop circumventing negotiations and give up their plans to pursue a state unilaterally through the United Nations.
  • On Monday, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon continued the ongoing strategic dialogue with Israel by meeting his Israeli counterpart for talks regarding Iran, Syria, and the other regional challenges facing Israel.

Quite simply, the distortions and wild speculation from the past few days do not match the actions coming from the President and his Administration-not to mention the words of Israel’s leaders.  

President Obama and Elie Wiesel to Coauthor Book

— by David Streeter

JTA reported recently that President Barack Obama and Elie Wiesel will be coauthoring a book together now that the election is over. According to JTA:

Elie Wiesel and President Obama are writing a book together, the Holocaust survivor and author told an Israeli newspaper.

The book, which the two men will resume writing after Tuesday’s presidential election, is ‘a book of two friends,’ Wiesel, a Nobel laureate, told Haaretz.

Haaretz reported that Wiesel and Obama became friends in 2009 when Wiesel joined Obama on a visit to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp, where Wiesel was interned at the end of World War II following a death march from Auschwitz.

‘We talk about philosophy, contemplation, thought, but never about politics. He is a thinking person, a person with depth and intellectual curiosity,’ Wiesel said about the dinners that the two occasionally have together.

Wiesel and Obama first met when Wiesel lectured at California’s Occidental College, where Obama was a student.

‘Your lecture has stayed with me to this day,’ the president told Wiesel years later, Wiesel told Haaretz. ‘When I heard that, my pulse went up. I told myself that I have to be careful because I can never know whether anyone in the audience will be a future president.’

More after the jump.
NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris reacted to the news by saying:

It’s wonderful that President Obama and Elie Wiesel will be working on this unprecedented project together. This unique collaboration highlights the essential shared values between these two leaders-the newly-reelected President of our country and the voice of conscience of our people. This President has always been a very close friend of the American Jewish community, and we look forward to seeing the results of this special partnership between him and Mr. Wiesel.

Video: Netanyahu Congratulates President Obama

— by David Streeter

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated President Barack Obama on his victory last night. During his remarks with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, the Prime Minister noted that the security relationship between the United States and Israel remains “rock solid” and that he looks forward to his continued cooperation with the President. Netanyahu also released a statement in which he said that “strategic alliance between Israel and the U.S. is stronger than ever.”

Romney Pledged To Shift Foreign Aid Toward Private Sector

During his address to the Clinton Global Initiative, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney proposed dramatic changes to the foreign aid budget-something which the pro-Israel community has repeatedly opposed because of the potential curbs on U.S. soft power and because of the potential negative long-term effects on U.S. aid to Israel. According to Foreign Policy:

Mitt Romney pledged Tuesday to shift foreign aid toward the private sector and deprioritize humanitarian aid in favor of promoting free enterprise and business development around the world.

In remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative, Romney laid out his most detailed proposals on foreign aid thus far, including his plan to move foreign aid to rely more on public-private partnerships that enlist American corporations to the cause of helping the developing world….

Romney then said he would lower the priority of foreign aid as a means to address humanitarian needs, such as health, as well as foreign aid as a means to promote U.S. strategic interests. (emphasis added) He said the foreign aid goal that will receive ‘more attention and a much higher priority’ if he is elected would be ‘aid that elevates people and brings about lasting change in communities and in nations.’

During the primary season, Romney joined with other Republican presidential candidates in recklessly calling for alterations to the foreign aid budget. As we wrote then, support for robust foreign aid packages has long been a key component of support for Israel. Perhaps Romney’s latest proposal to alter foreign aid is part of his pledge to “do the opposite” on Israel?

Previously, Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and Related Programs, argued that the “security imperatives” of preserving a robust foreign aid program are essential to America’s national security interests. Representative Steve Rothman (D-NJ) also warned:

Cutting foreign aid will not right our struggling economy, but will ultimately cost us more in U.S. lives and taxpayer dollars. It will surely cause direct and substantial harm to America’s national security.

Further, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition-a foreign policy organization that includes the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-strongly opposes cuts to America’s foreign assistance programs because of their potential to negatively impact American interests abroad.

What Mourdock’s Rape Comments Mean for Jews

— by Ann Lewis

“And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”— Richard Mourdock, U.S. Senate candidate from Indiana

For Jewish voters still thinking about their vote for President of the United States, these comments should sound a loud warning bell: Not because we disagree with Richard Mourdock’s views, or his right to express them — but because he wants to write his own theology into law, imposing his own opinion of God’s will over those who believe differently.

Disturbingly, Richard Murdock has company at the top of the Republican Party. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan explained that he also wants to outlaw women’s ability to make their own decisions – even in such tragic cases as rape or incest. Ryan said,

“I’m very proud of my pro-life record. I’ve always adopted the idea that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.”

And presidential nominee Mitt Romney, while announcing that he disagrees with Richard Murdock, has also said that he would be “delighted” to sign legislation that would ban all abortions and strip women of their right to control their bodies.

More after the jump.
And yet Republican partisans, especially those who tell us that they disagree with these positions, claim that attention to women’s health is a diversion — not a real issue. They liken women’s health to a “side show” — as if it were a carnival attraction.

Women’s health and well being is not a “special interest” or a “side issue” or even a “social issue!” The trauma of rape is not easily overlooked by the women who are victims. Serious people cannot consider rape as just one “method of conception!”

The ability of women and their families to be able to choose their own personal options is an essential part of women’s ability to live fully human lives. That means protecting our right to make our health care decisions, according to our own faith, — and yes, our own opinions about what is God’s will!

Richard Mourdock didn’t just reveal his own confusion between his personal beliefs and the role of lawmakers in a democracy — he also reminded us of the importance of the 2012 election.

Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) wrote that the

“the next president likely will nominate one or more new Supreme Court justices… The next Senate will be tasked with confirming or rejecting the President’s Supreme Court nominees….”

The decisions that we make this year will determine our laws and how those laws are interpreted in the courts for years to come, impacting our children and our grandchildren in their own life choices.

For American Jews proud of our nation’s history of religious liberty, this approach to lawmaking is especially dangerous.

We have learned through experience to be wary of those who seek to legislate their own interpretations of religious authority.

Will we now allow one particular interpretation of “God’s will” to be written into law? Is this the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?  

Not if I can help it.

Ann Lewis was Communications Director for President Bill Clinton and a Senior Adviser to Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign. She is a member of the National Jewish Democratic Council’s Chairman’s Council. This editorial appeared in The Huffington Post.

I Will Stand With Israel if They Are Attacked

Obama schools Romney on the fact that we have “fewer horses and bayonets.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN in July 2012 that he thought Obama Administration was “doing more than anything he could remember in the past” for Israel’s security. Sarah Silverman’s sister Rabbi Susan Silverman asked some Israelis what they thought Barak meant…

— by David A. Harris

President Obama’s statements of unequivocal support for Israel tonight — including his commitment to stand by Israel if it is attacked by Iran — is just the latest demonstration of this President’s rock-solid commitment to the Jewish state and its security. His words speak for themselves, and indeed they speak so powerfully that all Governor Mitt Romney could do was chime in with a quiet ‘me too’ reply. In fact, Governor Romney tonight just  continued to mislead the American people about President Obama’s record — especially concerning Israel and Iran. For pro-Israel voters, only one candidate in this race has a proven record when it comes to standing up for Israel’s security, and those voters were reminded of that tonight. President Obama showed — in this exchange, and throughout the evening — why and how he has stewarded the U.S.-Israel relationship and the effort to halt Iran so powerfully and with maturity, seriousness and confidence over the past four years.

Rush transcript of Obama’s remarks (emphasis added):

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, Israel is a true friend, it is our greatest ally in the region, and if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel.  I have made that clear throughout my presidency.

MODERATOR BOB SCHIEFFER:  So you are saying-you have already made that declaration?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I will stand with Israel if they are attacked, and this is the reason why, working with Israel we have created the strongest military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries in history.  

In fact, this week we will be carrying out the largest military exercise with Israel in history, this very week, but to the issue of Iran, as long as I’m President of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.  I made that clear when I came into office.  We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy.  Their currency has dropped 80 percent.  Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago.  So their economy is in a shambles.  And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security and it’s a threat to Israel’s national security.  

We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.  Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and for them to be able to provide nuclear technology to non-state actors, that’s unacceptable.  And they have said that they want to see Israel wiped off the map.  So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice.  They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States President, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.

The disagreement I have with Governor Romney is that during the course of this campaign he has often talked as if we should take premature military action.  I think that would be a mistake because when I sent young men and women into harm’s way, I always understand that that is the last resort, not the first resort.

Romney Affinity Group Led by Iran Sanctions Foes, Israel Critics

— by David Streeter

BuzzFeed reported that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is touting the support of Iran sanctions opponents as well as individuals with questionable Israel records. BuzzFeed reported:

[O]n the roster is George Salem, an advisor to global lobbying firm DLA Piper who has recently been involved in bitter infighting in Washington’s pro-Palestinian community, pushing for a more confrontational stance toward Israel….

Salem was at the heart of a dispute last year inside the organization, in which, according to an ally’s account, he pressed for the group to support the Palestinian pursuit of statehood before the United Nations, a move Israel feared and that the United States openly opposed….

Pro-Israel Democrats, however, complained to BuzzFeed Thursday that Romney was paying no political price for associating him with Israel critics at a time when Obama has been pounded constantly on alleged breaches of faith with the Jewish State.

‘I’m not saying all these individuals are anti-Israel, but if this were the other way around, that’s exactly how they’d be portrayed,’ said Democratic strategist Aaron Keyak, a veteran of the partisan Israel wars, of the list. ‘There would be a breaking [Republican Jewish Committee] release and a big bold headline on Drudge, Free Beacon, Weekly Standard, and Fox News: “Obama’s Anti-Israel Kitchen Cabinet.” Instead — silence.’…

‘There’s nothing wrong fundamentally with having an Arab-American group,’ said David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council. ‘But I’m sure the Obama folks would be pilloried if they put out any affinity group led by individuals who were deeply opposed in principle to Iran sanctions, for example,’ he said, referring to Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian and ally of Rep. Ron Paul who voted against the sanctions.

‘To say that there’s a double standard here is putting it mildly,’ Harris said.

Other pro-Israel activists were agitated but declined to be quoted criticizing Romney.

‘The fact that the Romney folks have an anti-Israel activist like George Salem and a guy like Grover Norquist, who has been widely criticized, including by Republican members of congress, for long standing ties to terrorists and supporters of terrorists groups, affiliated with their campaign is pretty troubling,’ said one official with a Jewish organization. ‘If this were the Obama campaign, you can only imagine the howls of outrage that we would be hearing from Conservatives — and rightly so.’

Salem’s role produced particular complaints, in part because of his role in connecting President George W. Bush with Arab American leaders who were later pushed well out of the political mainstream. Salem has served as a lawyer for the Holy Land Foundation, a group with ties to Hamas, which President Bush shut down in 2001, and has been the target of at-times intense intra-party criticism since then.

This BuzzFeed report is in addition to the well known relationship between Romney and Israel-challenged former New Hampshire Governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu. Sununu — who has a questionable record on Israel — is a top Romney campaign surrogate and was one of the individuals Romney chose to formally nominate him during the Republican National Convention.

JTA’s Ron Kampeas also reported on this story and noted:

Fun related fact: Amash’s opponent, Steve Pestka, is a conservative Jewish Democrat who says he is within striking distance of unseating Amash.

Second Debate Further Clarifies the Jewish Values Choice

— by David Streeter

Tonight, President Obama showed that he stands with the Jewish community on a wide range of issues from keeping America safe and fighting for economic justice to protecting a woman’s right to choose and supporting legislation like the DREAM Act,” said David Harris, President and CEO of NJDC. “Once again, Governor Mitt Romney demonstrated in tonight’s debate that his views are completely out of step with the values of Jewish voters. In so many cases, the right-wing policies of the Romney/Ryan ticket are exactly the opposite of the views of a vast majority of Jewish voters.

Examples of how Governor Mitt Romney’s values are out of step with the Jewish community follow the jump.

  • Israel
    • Governor Romney has tried time and time again to mischaracterize President Obama’s relationship with Israel, ignoring that the relationship between these two countries is stronger than ever.
    • Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak shares this belief, stating: “The unshakable bonds between Israel and America and their respective defense establishments under the guiding hand of President Barack Obama are stronger and deeper than ever and we are very thankful and appreciative of that.” To learn more about Obama’s record on Israel, click here.
  • Iran: Romney’s attacks that President Obama has failed to be tough on Iran is completely unfounded.
    • President Obama has made stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions a crucial part of his foreign policy plan, putting in place the most stringent Iran sanctions ever.
    • This past month Iran’s currency dropped in value by 40% proving that the sanctions are in fact working.
    • As of October 1, the rial was valued at 35,000 rials to one dollar.
    • President Obama stood in front of the U.N. and stated that a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, doubling down on his promise that all options are on the table.
  • The Buffett Rule
    • The 2012 Jewish Values Survey showed that 81% of Jews favor increasing the tax rate on Americans earning more than $1 million a year
  • Choice
    • According to the same survey, 88% of Jewish voters believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases
    • Romney, on the other hand, wants to defund Planned Parenthood and promises to be a “pro-life president.”
  • Lilly Ledbetter Act
    • While gender equality has long been an important concept in the Jewish community, Governor Romney failed to take a stance on how he would vote on fair pay legislation.
  • Immigration and the DREAM Act

Romney’s GOP Baggage

— by David Streeter

The Forward‘s J.J. Goldberg wrote this week about the extra “GOP baggage” that would come along with a Mitt Romney presidency. Goldberg wrote:

It’s a wise old rule of the heart, too often forgotten: When you choose a spouse, remember that you’re not just marrying a mate – you’re also marrying into a family.

There’s a corollary that’s worth remembering when you enter the voting booth in November: You’re not just electing a president. You’re electing an administration and the party that will staff it up….

You’ll be choosing a head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is supposed to police Wall Street unless it decides to close its eyes and let the gamblers run the table. You’re choosing a head of the U.S. Forest Service, which protects national forests from developers, unless it’s headed by developers, and of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, whose scientists keep track of the terrifying trends in the earth’s climate while dodging the anti-science bullies of the Republican Congress.

You’re choosing the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which was led at a key point during the last Republican administration by one Michael ‘Brownie’ Brown, whose professional background was in show-horses, a pursuit that seems to have quite a following among Republican politicians.

You’re choosing a pool of Supreme Court nominees. The next president will likely decide whether the court’s pro-life faction is enlarged to the point where it can overturn Roe v. Wade. Ironically, this is the same pro-life faction that would rather risk executing an innocent man than risk setting a murderer free.

And you’ll probably be choosing a foreign policy team that yearns to resurrect the cowboy diplomacy of the George W. Bush administration, which did so much to discredit American leadership in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere….

Just look at Romney’s leadership field. In the GOP-led House of Representatives, Space, Science and Technology Committee Chair Ralph Hall of Texas believes human activity can’t impact the global climate because ‘I don’t think we can control what God controls.’ Science investigations and oversight subcommittee chair Paul Broun of Georgia said in a September 27 speech that he believes ‘the earth is about 9,000 years old’ and ‘was created in six days as we know them,’ and that ‘evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.’

The farm team is even weirder. In Arkansas, the GOP-led legislature has a pair of members, Jon Hubbard and Loy Mauch, who are openly nostalgic for African-American slavery (you read that right), and a former member running for his old seat, Charles Fuqua, who favors enacting the biblical law of executing ‘rebellious’ children by stoning.

This, then, is the crux of the choice this November: Whether to entrust our government to a party that believes in sensible governance or one that doesn’t. It would be better if we had two parties with two rational approaches to governing, rather than one that’s for it and one that’s against it. Competition is a good thing. But that’s not on offer.

Click here to read Goldberg’s full piece.