As We Go To Press: Several Dead in Stockholm Truck Attack—A truck drove into pedestrians in a busy shopping area of central Stockholm on Friday, killing several people and leaving many wounded in what Sweden’s prime minister called a “terror attack.” The attack appeared drawn from the playbook of low-tech terrorism—mowing down pedestrians with a vehicle—used by suspected Islamic State supporters in London last month and other European cities last year. Sweden’s security services, known as SäPo, said they had launched an investigation to determine the identity of the perpetrator and possible accomplices. “Sweden has been attacked,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said. It wasn’t immediately clear if the driver of the truck died in the attack or managed to escape. (Wall Street Journal, Apr. 7, 2017)
Trump’s Syria Opportunity: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 6, 2017— President Trump inherited the Syrian catastrophe from Barack Obama, and his initial instincts were to accept the awful status quo.
Trump’s Strike Signals to Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad: The Party’s Over: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Apr. 7, 2017 — It would be wrong to get too carried away by the overnight US missile strike on the Syrian airbase…
Trump’s Choice on Assad: Jonathan S. Tobin, National Review, Apr. 6, 2017 — As late as earlier this week, some in the White House were saying that for the U.S. to pursue the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad would be “silly.”
Celebrating Jerusalem at 'Hakotel': David M. Weinberg, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 31, 2017 — Over the next three months, there will be many jubilee celebrations of Jerusalem’s unification.
Happy Passover Video: CIJR, Apr. 7, 2017
Transcript of President Trump’s Remarks about Airstrikes in Syria: David Israel, Jewish Press, Apr. 7, 2017
In Israeli Eyes, Trump’s Tomahawks Correct the Course of History: Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, Apr. 7, 2017
Historians Run Amok: Daniel Pipes, National Review, Apr. 4, 2017
Wall Street Journal, Apr. 6, 2017
President Trump inherited the Syrian catastrophe from Barack Obama, and his initial instincts were to accept the awful status quo. But Bashar Assad’s latest chemical attack has galvanized his Administration to think anew, and Mr. Trump’s decision Thursday to launch a retaliatory missile strike is an important first step to save lives, enforce global order, and improve the strategic outlook for the U.S. and its allies.
Mr. Trump starts with the reality that Mr. Obama’s long abdication has left the U.S. with far less leverage than it had when the civil war began in 2011. Iran has become Mr. Assad’s protector on the ground via arms supplies and Hezbollah, and Russia has moved in as a military patron and patroller of the skies. The Muslim opposition the U.S. has been feebly trying to train and arm has been degraded while Mr. Assad and the Russians leave Islamic State to the Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition.
As recently as last week Mr. Trump seemed willing to surrender to this circumstance and do nothing beyond defeating ISIS in Syria’s east. This was reflected in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments last week that Mr. Assad was here to stay and the future of Syria would be “decided by the Syrian people.” That’s John Kerry-speak for capitulation, and it may have led Mr. Assad to believe he could unleash more chemical hell.
Mr. Trump also seemed to be courting an accommodation with Russia in Syria, but that road leads to more strategic retreat. Vladimir Putin’s price for restraining Mr. Assad would be steep: U.S. recognition of his conquests in Ukraine and the end of sanctions. This would erode the U.S.-Europe alliance and make Mr. Putin look like a hero back home. Iran might not cooperate in any case, and its goal is an arc of Shiite power from Tehran through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. The alternative to this surrender is to reassert U.S. influence with diplomacy and military force, and Mr. Assad’s chemical attack is the opening. Mr. Trump may understand this as he ordered an attack on the air base from which the chemical attack was launched, and Mr. Tillerson said Thursday that Mr. Assad has no future in Syria.
The quickest way to punish Mr. Assad for his aerial chemical attacks, and to ensure they won’t happen again, is to destroy his air power. This is the plan that Mr. Obama flinched at in 2013 when he let Mr. Assad cross his “red line.” He has now crossed that line again—this time after having promised to destroy his chemical stockpiles. On Thursday the U.S. struck only a single airfield, though Mr. Assad has six active airfields used in the war. The U.S. used cruise missiles from outside Syrian air space, which avoided engagement with Russian-manned air defenses. The Pentagon provided the firepower, though we wish Arabs and Europeans could have been included to show the international rejection of Mr. Assad’s war crimes.
Mr. Putin could escalate and engage U.S. forces. But Mr. Obama used that excuse to talk himself into doing nothing, and our guess is that Mr. Putin would shrink from fighting the U.S. lest he risk the humiliation of major losses. As for Russians on the ground, a U.S. source told the press they were forewarned about the attack to avoid casualties. A stronger attack would have destroyed Syria’s entire air force, and another good step would be for the U.S. and its allies to create the “safe zones” inside Syria that Mr. Trump promised during the campaign. This would be enforced by U.S. and allied air sorties plus renewed military supplies for the opposition. The humanitarian effort would show the U.S. purpose includes protecting the Syrian people. An international force could provide support for havens in multiple locations near the Turkish and Jordanian borders.
Every military operation carries risks but this one could also have major political and strategic benefits if Mr. Trump follows the air strike with some forceful diplomacy. The demonstration of renewed U.S. purpose in the region could have an electrifying impact across the Middle East. The Saudis, the Gulf Sunni states and Turkey would begin to rethink their accommodation to the Russia-Assad-Iran axis of dominance that none of them wants.
Mr. Trump also needs to make Russia and Iran begin to pay a price for their support for Mr. Assad’s depredations. They have had no incentive to negotiate an end to the civil war because they see themselves on the road to a relatively cost-free victory. That calculus may change if it looks like the costs of intervening are rising and Mr. Assad is no longer a sure winner. The Trump Administration has to think about the kind of long-term solution it would like in Syria—perhaps a partition into ethnic enclaves—but the chances of getting there are better if the opposition has safe zones and Mr. Assad can’t maraud with impunity.
The larger point for Mr. Trump to recognize is that he is being tested. The world—friend and foe—is watching to see how he responds to Mr. Assad’s war crime. His quick air strike on the evening he was having dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping makes clear that the Obama era is over. If he now follows with action to protect Syrian civilians and construct an anti-Assad coalition, he may find that new strategic possibilities open up to enhance U.S. interests and make the Middle East more stable.
Times of Israel, Apr. 7, 2017
It would be wrong to get too carried away by the overnight US missile strike on the Syrian airbase, north of Damascus, from which it is believed the Assad regime launched Tuesday’s despicable chemical weapons attack. This was, after all, just a single retaliatory strike on an air base, and not a 180-degree change in US military policy. We don’t know what the Trump administration’s ongoing policy will be, should President Bashar Assad carry out further chemical weapons attacks, and we certainly have no sense that President Donald Trump will now be seeking to oust the Assad regime.
Nonetheless, the overnight US raid was dramatic and remarkable, especially when compared to the policy of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, which might best be summed up in the single word “inaction.” In less than three months, the much-mocked President Trump has achieved in the Middle East what Obama never sought, or even wanted to do: He has gained the trust of Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. Even the leadership of the Palestinian Authority is unstintingly in its praise of his Middle East policies and his efforts to revive the peace process with Israel.
The pragmatic Sunni camp, which felt itself so at odds with Obama, finally senses that it is being heard and heeded in Washington. The US administration is building relations with the correct side in this region, rather than gambling, as Obama did, on the political Islam characterized by the Muslim Brotherhood. But more than this, the US retaliatory attack sends the clear message to the Shi’ite camp — Iran and Hizballah — and to its Moscow patron, that the party is over. Only this week, Abdullah was warning about the Iranian effort to forge an area of control extending from Tehran to Beirut and Latakia.
Through a single, limited strike, Trump’s overnight resort to force signaled to the Shi’ite actors, and to Russia, that the rules of the game have now changed: From now on, there will be a price to be paid for invading, massacring, carrying out terror attacks, using non-conventional weapons. Such a message ought to have been delivered long ago, years ago. But Barack Obama opted not to do so. And as a consequence, the United States became perceived as weak, as afraid, as a nation that abandoned its allies in the Middle East. The overnight attack sent a very different message, especially to Assad’s opposition.
Moscow’s rapid, angry reaction, and the immediate messages of support from Saudi Arabia and from the Syrian opposition, underline how successful the single US strike has been in impacting all the necessary places. Not just the physical impact, either. Russia will now have to reassess its handling of the Syrian crisis. And as for Iran, Assad and Hezbollah, they will all have to weigh their next moves in what was once greater Syria with a great deal more care than before Trump hit back.
Jonathan S. Tobin
National Review, Apr. 6, 2017
As late as earlier this week, some in the White House were saying that for the U.S. to pursue the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad would be “silly.” But after President Donald Trump’s strong statement on Wednesday about Assad’s use of chemical weapons and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s denunciation of both the Syrian government and its Russian enabler, the notion of American action — both diplomatic and possibly even military — directed against Assad can’t be considered so silly. Indeed, as the Trump foreign-policy team assesses its goals in the Middle East, reversing course on Syria may be the only way the president has of fulfilling his promise to defeat ISIS.
Those who cheered Trump’s determination to avoid foreign entanglements — especially ones rooted in humanitarian concerns — may be hoping that the administration’s most recent statements about Syria won’t be translated into action. Given Trump’s history of deprecating the Bush administration and his criticism of President Obama for even thinking about enforcing his “red line” threat to Assad that Trump now correctly sees as making his predecessor responsible for the mess he inherited, it is entirely possible that Trump will ultimately do nothing. But it’s also possible that this administration, like so many of its predecessors, is working its way toward inescapable conclusions about policy that contradict campaign rhetoric. Much as Trump would have liked to leave Assad in place, events may have made that impossible.
When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Ambassador Haley, and White House spokesman Sean Spicer were dismissing the idea of seeking Assad’s removal, they were merely acknowledging facts. Obama’s timidity combined with massive military intervention by Iran, Tehran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries, and, most importantly, Russia, meant the Damascus regime had largely won a civil war they were in danger of losing a few years ago. In 2013, when Obama stated that the use of chemical weapons by Assad meant crossing a “red line” the West would not ignore, the outcome of the war was still in doubt. While some rebel forces remain in the field, the dictator’s hold on power is no longer in question. The one truly potent threat is ISIS, which the Syrian government and its allies have largely left alone even as they have laid waste to any area where other dissidents have been located.
While Assad would like to reclaim all of his territory, ISIS, which still controls large stretches of both Syria and Iraq, has not been a priority. Assad and the Russians have been content to allow it to maintain its strength, since it has been a greater threat to the government of Iraq and its Western and Arab allies than to them. But his latest use of chemical weapons — which were supposed to have been collected by Russia, according to the face-saving agreement Obama concluded with Putin in order to justify his refusal to enforce his “red line” threat — has done more than generate international outrage.
The problem for Trump isn’t just that neither he nor the rest of his foreign-policy team are comfortable with maintaining silence about gas attacks on civilians or the fact that their Russian “friends” have no shame about providing diplomatic cover for Assad’s atrocities at the United Nations. It’s that they may be starting to realize that a tilt toward Russia may not be compatible with Trump’s promises of a successful war against the Islamic State.
The West rightly regards ISIS as a barbarous terror group that has inflicted countless atrocities on minority groups and political opponents in Syria and Iraq. But to Sunni Muslims in Syria, the Islamic State is the only force that is still effectively resisting the depredations of a Syrian government that many link to the Alawite minority. As much as both Obama and now Trump may have hoped that a war on ISIS could be prosecuted in cooperation with the Russian and Iranian forces helping Assad, the gas attack is a reminder that so long as Assad’s butchers are terrorizing and slaughtering civilians with impunity, ISIS will have the support of many Syrians.
This week’s reports of Assad’s depredations may be forcing the president to confront the basic contradictions at the heart of his approach to the region. Just as he must choose between a desire to get tough with an Iranian government that seeks regional hegemony and his desire to avoid confrontations with their Russian ally in Syria, so, too, must Trump come to grips with the fact that the military victory over ISIS he promised last year is incompatible with a policy of leaving Assad in place.
Rather than emulate Obama and sit back and let the Russians have their way in Syria, Trump must use all of the formidable resources at his disposal to get Moscow to rein in or abandon their client. As Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) suggested on Wednesday, that might involve the use of covert action or military force against Assad. The motivation for Trump pressuring the Russians in this manner isn’t so much a justified outrage at what has happened in Syria as a realization that acquiescence to the current state of affairs is antithetical to U.S. security goals about terror that Trump should regard as more important than his pro-Russian tilt.
It is ironic that a president whose political success was in no small measure advanced by his stand against interventionism is now being forced to deal with the costs of a policy of appeasement of Russia that he advocated. But the world looks very different from the Oval Office. This wouldn’t be the first administration that was transformed by events that weren’t foreseen or properly understood before it took office. Should Trump hesitate to press the Russians or simply let this moment pass without U.S. action of some kind, that may be what some in his base want. But Bashar al-Assad’s deplorable actions may have brought some much-needed clarity to Trump’s otherwise muddled foreign-policy vision that will compel him to change his tune.
David M. Weinberg
Jerusalem Post, Mar. 31, 2017
Over the next three months, there will be many jubilee celebrations of Jerusalem’s unification. Everyone will be marking 50 years since the liberation of the Old City and the return of Jewish sovereignty to the Temple Mount and the Kotel (Western Wall). It is only appropriate that the first of these celebrations was held by Yeshivat Hakotel, which was the very first major institution to be established in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem immediately after the Six Day War. Close to 2,500 alumni of this magnificent educational institution (including me) gathered this week for a gala reunion and concert in Jerusalem.
All the heroism, humanism, determination and vision that characterizes the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-anchoring of Jewish identity in Jerusalem over the past half-century is encapsulated in the story of Yeshivat Hakotel. It was only two months after the June 1967 war. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem had been laid waste by the Arabs during the 19-year Jordanian occupation. It was in total ruins. Almost every building, including many famous synagogues, had been dynamited. Fox and sheep were the only residents of the rubble.
Into the debris, waded the visionary Rabbi Aryeh Bina and a coterie of yeshiva students, intent on bringing Torah study back to the Temple precinct. The pioneering group schlepped food, books and electrical generators into the derelict Batei Machse buildings and established a hesder yeshiva – combining yeshiva studies with IDF service. The first classes were held on Tisha Be’Av, the day of lamentation for the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Commonwealths. It was more than symbolic that on this day the Third Jewish Commonwealth’s Religious Zionist frontiersmen trail-blazed their way back into ancient Jerusalem.
Levi Eshkol and Yigal Alon were drawn to the yeshiva and helped it along, admiring its unique combination of grit, faith and revolutionary spirit. Great philanthropists like Kurt Rothschild of Canada and Maurice Wohl of England later helped build the yeshiva’s colossal building; the grandest structure in the Old City since the destruction of the Second Temple 2,000 years ago.
Over the past fifty years, under the deanship of Rabbi Chaim Yeshayahu Hadari, and in recent years under Rabbi Baruch Wieder, Yeshivat Hakotel has grown into a powerhouse place of scholarship and leadership training. Its alumni can be found in all walks of Israeli leadership, from the yeshiva world to academia, and from business to military.
Hakotel’s foreign student alumni are leaders of American Modern Orthodoxy too. Many have made aliyah, while others are key donors to the yeshiva today. Many prominent yeshivas, rabbinical courts and academic institutions are today led by Hakotel alumni. This includes well-known rabbis such as Avraham Wolfson (Maaleh Adumim), Aryeh Hendler (Ramle), Beni Kalmanzon (Otniel), David Henschke (Bar-Ilan U.), David Turgeman (Dimona), Dov Singer (Kfar Etzion), Haim Sabato (Mitpe Nevo), Rafi Peretz (former IDF chief rabbi), Tuvia Lifshitz (Hakotel), Yehuda Brandes (Herzog College), Yehuda Shachor (Rehovot), Yitzhak Levy (former NRP leader), and more.
Rabbi Hadari’s unique personality and spiritual worldview is what drew these people together, I believe. He was questing for “Cossacks with shtreimels,” as he once picturesquely described it. Rabbi Hadari meant that he was seeking to raise a generation of soldiers who were also scholars deeply entrenched in Jewish learning; specifically Torah flavored by Hassidic thought infused with Rabbi A.Y. Kook’s Zionist-transformational bent.
For me, a defining educational-sacred experience was the before-dawn Friday morning Midrash class taught by Rabbi Hadari in th
e early 1980s on the yeshiva rooftop overlooking the Temple Mount. It was here that I discovered how to understand the grand sweep of Jewish history as interpreted in traditional sources, and to appreciate the mystical teachings of Rav Zadok Hacohen of Lublin and their existentialist application to modern Israel. It was on that rooftop that I forged my own commitment to aliyah, and to the building of Jerusalem as Israel’s strategic, spiritual and cultural core. It was on that rooftop that I met the scholar-student activist-doctor who is my best friend from then till today.
To this, I add the Friday night ritual of dancing en masse to the Kotel for Shabbat eve prayers – for which Yeshivat Hakotel was famous. It was sight to see and an experience to savor: Hundreds of white-shirted boys in rows, with arms on each other’s shoulders, streaming down the long staircase from the Jewish Quarter; like an endless flock of pure sheep skipping along the Psalmist’s mountains. Tourist groups from around the world, and many IDF units, would time their visits to the Western Wall in order to join in the singing and dancing (and take pictures). They still do. It is uplifting to all…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
CIJR Wishes All Our Friends & Supporters: Shabbat Shalom!
Happy Passover Video: CIJR, Apr. 7, 2017
Transcript of President Trump’s Remarks about Airstrikes in Syria: David Israel, Jewish Press, Apr. 7, 2017—This is a transcript of President Donald Trump’s remarks on Thursday night in Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida: “My fellow Americans, on Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians.
In Israeli Eyes, Trump’s Tomahawks Correct the Course of History: Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, Apr. 7, 2017—From an Israeli perspective, US President Donald Trump corrected the course of history in ordering airstrikes against the Syrian regime late Thursday.
Historians Run Amok: Daniel Pipes, National Review, Apr. 4, 2017—The eminent historian Niall Ferguson has devastatingly skewered his (and my) field of study in a talk for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, subsequently published as "The Decline and Fall of History."