Rice and Power Picked for Top Foreign Policy Jobs

Yesterday, President Obama announced that after more than four years overseeing the work of the National Security Council, Tom Donilon will depart in July as National Security Advisor and will be succeeded by Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice will be succeeded by Samantha Power as the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pending Senate confirmation.

Reactions from BBI, NJDC and JCPA follow the the jump.

Susan Rice and Samantha Power

B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement, welcoming Rice’s appointment:

Rice was previously the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and served as a positive force within the world body. She often defended Israel against malicious one-sided resolutions intended to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. Rice spoke at the United Nations about the importance of direct negotiation between the parties to the Middle East conflict and urged the world body to resist unilateral measures aimed at circumventing the peace process.

Rice also expressed U.S. support for strong international sanctions against Iran and made clear America’s determination to prevent the regime in Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

B’nai B’rith looks forward to working with Rice in her new position. We hope that in her new role she will be a force for advancing the same principles she fought for at the U.N.

National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) Chair Marc R. Stanley said:

On behalf of the NJDC Board, I want to thank Tom Donilon for his service to the Obama Administration. Donilon has been a part of President Obama’s most significant defense policy decisions, including the Administration’s work to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.

Without question, Susan Rice has served the Obama Administration well in the United Nations and has made combatting anti-Israel bias a top priority for the U.S. delegation. NJDC commends her for her work at the U.N. and we know that she will serve the President effectively as his new National Security Advisor. We also congratulate Samantha Power on her selection and have full confidence that she will continue Rice’s work on behalf of the United States and Israel in U.N. bodies.

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said:

Both Susan Rice and Samantha Power have been dedicated public servants and important partners in our work. As Ambassador to the U.N., Rice has played a crucial role in strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship and has been a steadfast ally for the Jewish state through many pressing challenges. Just a few weeks ago, leaders from the JCPA, The Jewish Federations of North America, UJA-Federation of New York, and the JCRC of New York visited Amb. Rice and gave her a mezuzah for her New York office in honor of her staunch support for Israel and as a symbol of her friendship with the American Jewish community.  We look forward to continuing our work together when she returns to Washington and assumes her new role.

We have also worked closely with Samantha Power over the years in her roles as journalist, activist, and government official.  Power has been a critical voice on human rights issues and we are very proud of our joint work to confront atrocities, including that in Darfur and the ongoing crisis in Sudan.

National Security Advisor to Europe: Add Hezbollah to Terrorist List

— by Daniel Ensign

In a column in Sunday’s New York Times, White House National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon condemned the terrorist acts committed by Hezbollah and called for the European Union to add Hezbollah to its list of terrorist organizations. Donilon’s column follows a recent report from the Bulgarian government denouncing Hezbollah’s role in the July Burgas bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists and injured 32 others. Donilon wrote:

Since 2011, the group has murdered civilians in Bulgaria, seen its activities disrupted in Cyprus and Thailand, and worked to plot attacks elsewhere. It is helping to prop up the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria; and it acts as a proxy for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in the region and beyond. In doing so, Hezbollah is putting the well-being of Lebanon and its people at risk.

Bani Brith International’s response on the subject after the jump.

Now that Bulgarian authorities have exposed Hezbollah’s global terrorist agenda, European governments must respond swiftly. They must disrupt its operational networks, stop flows of financial assistance to the group, crack down on Hezbollah-linked criminal enterprises and condemn the organization’s leaders for their continued pursuit of terrorism.

The United States applauds those countries that have long recognized Hezbollah’s nefarious nature and that have already condemned the group for the attack in Burgas. Europe must now act collectively and respond resolutely to this attack within its borders by adding Hezbollah to the European Union’s terrorist list. That is the next step toward ensuring that Burgas is the last successful Hezbollah operation on European soil.

Click here to read the full column.

B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement on this subject:

B’nai B’rith International hopes Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov’s meeting with the European Union Foreign Affairs Council yesterday to discuss the Burgas report will result in designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization throughout Europe.

Mladenov briefed the council on the findings of the report that holds Hezbollah responsible for the July 2012 attack in Burgas that left five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian dead, while wounding 30 others.

When asked by reporters if he believes Hezbollah should be named a terrorist organization by the EU, Mladenov replied: “Given the fact that we’ve already made quite firm statements about where we believe the responsibility for that attack lies, I think the answer is quite obvious.”

According to various news reports, there is no official timetable for the EU by which to reach a decision on Hezbollah’s designation. The council and other EU officials will examine the Burgas report and then bring it to a debate. A unanimous vote is needed to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

B’nai B’rith will continue to urge EU officials and other interested parties to name Hezbollah for what it truly is — a violent and dangerous organization whose acts of terror have been carried out on three continents.

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.  

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon Returns From Israel

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon concluded a three day visit to Israel today for consultations with senior Israeli officials including Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, Chief of the General Staff Gantz, and National Security Advisor Gen. Yaakov Amidror.  Mr. Donilon and his delegation addressed the full range of security issues of mutual concern.  The visit is part of the continuous and intensive dialogue between the United States and Israel and reflects our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.  Mr. Donilon relayed to Prime Minister Netanyahu that the President looks forward to meeting with him at the White House on March 5.

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon At the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The U.S.-Israel relationship is a close friendship, rooted in shared values and cultural common ground.  But it has also evolved into a multilayered strategic partnership, to advance shared interests and counter common threats.

Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. We understand the threats that Israel faces.  We have to understand them, because those who threaten Israel also threaten us.

This starts at the strategic level, where our nations have worked together from the certainties of the cold war to the uncertainties of the Arab Spring to forge a conception of the strategic landscape.  We have differed at times about the exact contours of the landscape, but through sustained and very open dialogue we have enriched each others’ understanding of the security challenges we both face.

We have shared our best thinking about the most effective ways to match our resources to the requirements that flowed from our strategic worldview.  At the highest level, there are regular meetings and phone calls between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. They will meet again next week at the White House.

Complete transcript follows the jump.
Complete Text

Thank you for this opportunity to speak at the Washington Institute at such an important moment in the history of the Middle East.

Since its founding in 1985, this organization has played a key role in America’s understanding of this region. I know firsthand what remarkable scholars you’ve assembled here over the years and have been fortunate to work with many of them, inside and outside of government. Indeed, we’ve hired several into this Administration, so thank you for nurturing such great talent.

I want to thank Rob Satloff for his invitation and kind introduction. Rob offered me the chance to either give this speech or to have a conversation with him on stage. Knowing that Rob is the Dick Cavett of think tank heads, I opted for the speech.

I would like to begin this evening with a few reflections on the operation last week against Osama bin Laden.

Nearly two years ago-on May 26, 2009-President Obama called Director Panetta and me into the Oval Office. Bin Ladin’s trail had gone cold. The President told us in no uncertain terms to expand and redouble the effort to find him, and to make it the intelligence community’s top priority.

Dedicated professionals painstakingly scrutinized thousands of pieces of information until we found a man we believed was bin Laden’s trusted courier and began to track his movements.

In the months leading up to the raid, we combed the intelligence, worked over the options, and met regularly with the President on the way ahead.  As that process culminated — having served three presidents — I was struck by how quintessentially presidential this decision was.

On Thursday night, the 28th at around 7:00, the President left the Situation Room, where he had received his final briefing on the various courses of action. In that room, the President had received divided counsel from his team, and told us that he would make a decision soon.

The President stood up, walked out of the Situation Room, and walked across the colonnade, past the Rose Garden, into the residence.  This decision was his – and his alone – to make.

And then the next morning at about 20 minutes after 8:00, he asked am few of us to come to the Diplomatic Room and told us “It’s a go.” That’s what strikes me now: that we ask our presidents alone to make these exceedingly difficult decisions. And at the end of the day, 300 million Americans were looking to him to make the right decision.

We all know the outcome, but let me make five  observations about the operation, all the hard work leading up to it, and what we see as some of the consequences.

First, the decision-making process was truly emblematic of President Obama. It was intensely rigorous-he challenged assumptions and pushed on the analysis and the intelligence to make sure we actually knew what we thought we knew. We held more than two dozen interagency meetings and the President personally chaired five meetings in the White House Situation Room in the six weeks leading up to the operation on Sunday, May 1. When it came time to decide, there were a number of options available, but the President chose to launch the raid for three main reasons: he wanted to limit the risk to innocent civilians-which, by the way, we did.  He wanted to be able to prove we found who we were looking for. And he wanted to be able exploit any intelligence found at the scene, which I’ll say more about in a moment.  One more comment on the process – our team was able to maintain absolute operational security.  Through months of work – not a single leak.  It is a tribute to the team, the President’s leadership of the process, and was key to the success of the operation.

Second, the Special Forces who carried out this operation performed brilliantly.  Our view was that there was about a 50-50 chance that if we launched this operation we’d get bin Laden, but what gave the President the confidence to go ahead with the operation was his 100% faith in the abilities of these warriors who have conducted literally thousands of such missions. As the President said when he met with them last Friday at Fort Campbell, they are the greatest small fighting force in the history of the world.

This was also one of the great achievements in the history of the intelligence community. It was a success that was years in the making-across three U.S. Administrations-which is why the President’s first two phone calls once our helicopters were out of harm’s way were to Presidents Bush and Clinton.

Third, as a result of this raid, we now have the single largest trove of intelligence ever collected from a senior terrorist leader. The intelligence community says it is equivalent to a small college library worth of material.  It is remarkable:  Based on what we know now, we have tens of thousands of video and photo files, and millions of pages of text. One fact is already clear from this intelligence: Osama bin Laden was not simply a marginalized or symbolic figurehead. He remained an operational commander of al Qaeda-a man directly involved in strategy, operations, propaganda and personnel.  That is why the President’s decision to pursue the assault option mattered so much.  In that compound in Abbottabad, we got more than Osama Bin Ladin.

Which leads me to my fourth point: As of early 2010, we assessed that al-Qaeda was at its weakest point since 2001.  The successful assault on bin Laden’s compound is a strong blow and important milestone on the way to al Qaeda’s strategic defeat.  But al Qaeda suffers additional fundamental challenges:  The Arab Spring narrative presents al-Qaeda with a potent ideological challenge.  For its entire existence, al-Qaeda’s message has been that violence is the only path forward.  It has never had an affirmative program – it could not have been further removed from and relevant to those who came to Tahrir Square in January.

Fifth and finally, our action sent a powerful message for America’s friends and adversaries:  we do what we say we will do.  It is a message of persistence, determination, and dedication.  No matter the obstacles, the United States does what it says it is going to do.  Across presidencies and parties.  And the United States has the capabilities to do so.  These capabilities and this message were on full display a week ago Sunday.  That is an important message that resonates across our other strategic interests.

The quiet and determined pursuit of bin Laden is not the only example of how President Obama matches his words with action.

This is also the case with respect to Iran.

President Obama has  long understood the regional and international consequences of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons’ state. That is why we are committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. From his first days in office, he has made clear to Iran that it has a choice: it can act to restore the confidence of the international community in the purposes of its nuclear program by fully complying with the IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions, or it can continue to shirk its international obligations, which will only increase its isolation and the consequences for the regime. There is no escaping or evading that choice.

Already, Iran is facing sanctions that are far more comprehensive than ever before,  As a result it finds it hard to do business with any reputable bank internationally; to conduct transactions in Euros or dollars; to acquire insurance for its shipping; to gain new capital investment or technology infusions in its antiquated oil and natural gas infrastructure-and it has found in that critical sector, alone, close to $60 billion in projects have been put on hold or discontinued. Other sectors are clearly being affected as well.  Leading multinational corporations understand the risk of doing business with Iran – and are choosing to no longer do so. These are companies you’ve heard of: Shell, Toyota, Kia, Repsol, Deutsche Bank, UBS, and Credit Suisse, to name just a few. The impact is real.

Unless and until Iran complies with its obligations under the NPT and all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, we will continue to ratchet up the pressure. As the President has said: “Iran can prove that its intentions are peaceful.  It can meet its obligations under the NPT and achieve the security and prosperity worthy of a great nation. It can have confidence in the Iranian people and allow their rights to flourish.  For Iranians are heirs to a remarkable history.”  

Like all NPT Parties, Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear energy. But it also has a responsibility to fulfill its obligations. There is no alternative to doing so.

That is why — even with all the events unfolding in the Middle East — we remain focused on ensuring that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.

But as you all well know, the Iranian regime’s nuclear program is part of a larger pattern of destabilizing activities throughout the region: In Iraq-where, as our former commander General Odierno said last summer, “they continue to be involved in violence specifically directed at U.S. forces”; in Syria, where it has helped the Asad regime suppress pro-democracy demonstrations; and in Lebanon, where it continues to arm Hizballah.

So make no mistake, we have no illusions about the Iranian regime’s regional ambitions. We know that they will try to exploit this period of tumult and will remain vigilant. But we must also remember that Iran has many weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Iran’s model, like al Qaeda’s, lacks a vision relevant to our times. It is a model that could not be more out of step with the sentiments of the Arab Spring.   This model has the following characteristics:

First: A corrupt, mismanaged and isolated economy that offers the younger generation little hope for a better future. It is an economy increasingly working for the security services like the IRGC and elites, and not for the people of Iran.

Second: The denial of the basic human rights of freedom of expression – the very liberties people across the Middle East are prepared to risk their lives to claim.

Third: a political leadership focused on preserving its reign at all costs, including by unleashing violence against its own citizens, rather than enabling its citizens to flourish.

Fourth: The pursuit of policies that have worked to make a great civilization and people an isolated state, increasingly unable to carry on basic interactions with the rest of the world.

So it’s no surprise, then, that Iran’s world view bears little or no resemblance to the movements afoot in the streets of Tunis and Cairo, Benghazi, Deraa.

Iranian leaders’ attempts to declare themselves the inspiration for these demonstrators are belied by their clear hypocrisy: demanding justice for others while crushing their own peoples’ demands.

Our observation is that since the elections in 2009, the regime has been heavily focused internally on silencing dissent and preserving itself. And as you might expect, we now see fissures developing among the ruling classa dispute that has nothing to do with meeting the needs and aspirations of the Iranian people. It also reflects a fundamental question: whether Iran has the confidence to engage with the outside world-a prospect that has been offered and that is in the overwhelming interest of its people.  As the President has said to Iran’s leaders: “we know what you’re against, now tell us what you’re for.”

Externally, Iran’s destabilizing activities are backfiring by uniting its neighbors in the Gulf against their activities-this was something I heard often when I visited the Gulf last month.

This is something Arab leaders are saying not just in private but in public as well. The Gulf Cooperation Council recently said it was “deeply worried about continuing Iranian meddling” and accused Tehran of fueling sectarianism.

I want to be clear: the door to diplomacy remains open to Iran. But that diplomacy must be meaningful and not a tactical attempt to ward off further sanctions.

These choices remain available to the Iranian government. In the meantime, America and our partners will keep the pressure on by continuing our current sanctions efforts and seeking new lines of activity to target.

We will continue the hard work of building a regional security architecture, maintaining a strong military presence, equipping our friends with early warning and missile defense systems-including our phased, adaptive approach.

We do all these things because they are profoundly in our national interest. And we do them because America stands by its friends and allies.

And in this region we have no closer friend and ally than the state of Israel.

The U.S.-Israel relationship is a close friendship, rooted in shared values and cultural common ground.  But it has also evolved into a multilayered strategic partnership, to advance shared interests and counter common threats.

Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. We understand the threats that Israel faces.  We have to understand them, because those who threaten Israel also threaten us.

This starts at the strategic level, where our nations have worked together from the certainties of the cold war to the uncertainties of the Arab Spring to forge a conception of the strategic landscape.  We have differed at times about the exact contours of the landscape, but through sustained and very open dialogue we have enriched each others’ understanding of the security challenges we both face.

We have shared our best thinking about the most effective ways to match our resources to the requirements that flowed from our strategic worldview.  At the highest level, there are regular meetings and phone calls between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. They will meet again next week at the White House.

We also conduct these discussions through an array of channels: The strategic dialogue, the Joint Political-Military Group, and many more.  These channels have been ongoing and have proved their worth at every level of our governments.

The enduring relationships our senior leaders have forged with their Israeli counterparts have produced a rock-solid foundation of trust between the Pentagon and the Israeli Ministry of Defense.  In 2010 alone, there were nearly 200 senior-level DoD visitors to Israel; and Israeli defense officials visit us just as often.

Our multi-layered dialogue has produced concrete steps that enhance Israel’s security. While some are focused on noise and distraction, we are focused on fundamentals. And let me say this as plainly as I can — the fundamentals of this security relationship are stronger than they have ever been.

Everyone in this room knows that we are committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and back that commitment with about $3 billion of foreign military financing every year, regardless of the budget environment. This has helped Israel secure its future in a tough neighborhood.  At the same time, we have made our own best technology available, such as the Joint Strike Fighter and sophisticated standoff weapons, so that Israel can defend against evolving threats.

For more than two decades, the United States has also been working to improve the protection of Israel’s population from the very real and urgent threat of rockets and missiles by partnering with Israel to develop an extensive missile defense architecture.  We cooperate across the continuum of development, deployment, and operation of these systems. Our financial and technological support was essential to the Arrow and David’s Sling systems to defend against long and short-range ballistic missiles.  

A recent example of the President’s commitment to protect Israel from the scourge of rockets and missiles is our support for Iron Dome- an advanced short-range rocket defense system that has recently been deployed. During the 2008 presidential campaign, then Senator Obama visited Sderot, where he saw firsthand the damage from waves of rocket attacks. So, last year, the President requested that Congress provide Israel with an additional $205 million, on top of the FMF support Israel already receives, for the production of Iron Dome. Throughout its development, the U.S. cooperated closely with Israel, and the additional funding for Iron Dome requested by the President will allow the IDF to deploy additional systems throughout Israel in the years to come.

Already Iron Dome has proven its worth by intercepting 8 out of 9 rockets fired at Beersheva and Ashkelon in one day.

We are proud to stand by this project.  It is imperative that we do so, because there can be no peace without security.  The relationship between peace and security is both intricate and reciprocal.  There will not be peace until Israel is secure, but Israel can never be fully secure in the absence of a credible peace.

That is why from day one, President Obama has been committed to a process that can lead to two states-a Jewish State of Israel and a Palestinian state-living side by side in peace and security.

An enduring two state solution can only be achieved through negotiations.  There are no short-cuts.  But no one should take comfort in the status quo.  As we have learned in the Middle East, the status quo is never static.  There are demographic and technological clocks that keep ticking.  There is a new generation of leaders who will emerge in the region as a result of the changes that are now taking place. And it is in everyone’s interest that they see that peace is possible.

Across the Middle East this is a time of unprecedented transformation and uncertainty. I know there are those who see the specter of new threats and great risks on the horizon. We understand that view. Even without its leader, al Qaeda continues to plot the death of innocents.  Iran retains its nuclear ambitions and destabilizing activities. And Israel and America continue to confront a range of daunting threats. We will remain ever vigilant to these challenges.  

But this is also a time of great opportunity for America and its allies.

Our Administration came to office determined to restore American prestige, authority and influence. This means not just charting a bold course but following it. Not just setting difficult goals; but having the persistence and determination to achieve them. Not just saying what we intend to do; but doing it. On the threat from al Qaeda and Iran and on Israel’s security, we are doing just that. Thank you.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak Comes to Washington

National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met jointly today with Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak at the White House today.  They stressed the United States’ unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, including through our continued support for Israel’s military, and the unprecedented security cooperation between our two governments.  Mr. Donilon, Secretary Clinton, and Secretary Gates discussed with Minister Barak the latest developments in Egypt, the need to move forward on Middle East peace, our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and other regional and bilateral issues.  They agreed that the U.S. and Israel would continue to consult closely on common challenges and issues across our shared agenda.