Revealed: Syrian PM was double agent who helped Ben-Gurion (& Will Trump strike Iran?)

November 13, 2020

Clarification

Tom Gross writes: In relation to the article in the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz that I included in my dispatch a couple of hours ago (the third article below), a very well informed source in Washington writes in response to my dispatch and asks me to remind my readers:

“Those who suggest President Trump is itching to attack Iran right now were saying the same thing in October, offering the theory that he would do so to elicit a patriotic response in the US to win the election. It was a fantasy then and it is a fantasy now, unless the Iranians make the fatal error of killing Americans in Iraq. The president did not do so, and we should keep in mind that Trump has usually sought to reduce, not increase, American military commitments abroad.”

 

REVEALED: SYRIAN PM WAS DOUBLE AGENT WHO HELPED BEN-GURION (& WILL TRUMP STRIKE IRAN?)

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach a variety of articles, on unrelated subjects, that I found interesting in this morning’s Israeli and American press.

 

CONTENTS

(All these articles appear in print editions today, November 13, 2020)

1. Revealed: Syrian Prime Minister Was a Double Agent Who Gave Crucial Intel to Zionist Leaders (Meir Zamir, Haaretz)
2. Nobel Peace Prize: A Growing List of Questionable Choices (Rick Gladstone, New York Times)
3. Will Netanyahu Strike Iran? Unlikely, but Trump Might: Faced with the most unpredictable president to ever sit in the White House, Israeli officials are trying to decipher Trump’s intentions about Iran until January (Amos Harel, Haaretz)
4. Biden Knows What the Other Side Is Thinking: Patience costs nothing. Letting the process play out will strengthen faith in America’s institutions (Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal)
5. Meet Ron Klain, Former ‘Ebola Czar’ and Biden’s New Chief of Staff (Reuters)
6. What Gentiles Can Learn From Lord Sacks: The late British rabbi was the most gifted voice for biblical belief of our time (Meir Soloveichik, Wall Street Journal)

 

REVEALED: SYRIAN PRIME MINISTER WAS A DOUBLE AGENT WHO GAVE CRUCIAL INTEL TO ZIONIST LEADERS

Revealed: Syrian Prime Minister Was a Double Agent Who Gave Crucial Intel to Zionist Leaders
In 1945, David Ben-Gurion braced for the possibility of an attack by the Arab states should Israel declare independence. But game-changing information from a Syrian leader alerted him to another major threat
By Meir Zamir
Haaretz weekend magazine
November 13, 2020

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-revealed-syrian-prime-minister-was-a-double-agent-who-spied-for-zionist-leaders-1.9305783

In the summer of 1945, no one was more hated by French officials in Syria and Lebanon than Jamil Mardam. Intelligence information obtained by France revealed that Mardam, the prime minister of Syria under the French mandate there, had been recruited by Brig. Iltyd Nicholl Clayton, head of MI6 in the Middle East, and by Nuri Sa’id, the Iraqi prime minister. Mardam had also reportedly agreed to a plan whereby Syria, after the expulsion of France from its mandated territories, would unite with Iraq and with Transjordan under the Hashemite family, and Britain – which controlled those two countries – would enjoy hegemony in Damascus as well. For Mardam’s part in what was called the “Greater Syria” plan, he received handsome sums and was promised that he would rule in Syria, under the Hashemite monarch.

That information was only the opening round in a dramatic – and previously unknown – episode that helped shape the Middle East as we know it. What happened was that the French decided to exploit the situation for their own purposes and began to blackmail Mardam. They threatened to publish the documents in their possession and to leak the information to his political foes. Mardam ultimately resigned in August 1945 after consulting with his British handlers, but they did not know that he had capitulated to blackmail and had become a double agent. In that period, with the future of the region hanging in the balance, Mardam provided the French with valuable information about the intentions of the British military and intelligence services in the Middle East.

But the story doesn’t end there. Research in French and Israeli archives, together with a perusal of Syrian government documents, now shows that the Syrian prime minister was actually handled by a Zionist intelligence agent together with the French. The information that was conveyed through his auspices to David Ben-Gurion was critical to the Zionist leader’s strategy during the period leading up to the state’s establishment.

It all began in October 1945, when the French encountered a new problem. Mardam had been appointed Syria’s ambassador to Egypt and its envoy to the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, but the French had a hard time utilizing him there without arousing suspicion. The solution was to recruit Eliahu Sasson for the mission of relaying the information provided by Mardam.

Sasson, who was then the head of the Arab division of the Jewish Agency’s political department, had been appointed by Agency head Ben-Gurion in February 1945 to coordinate cooperation with French intelligence. The Syrian-born Sasson knew Mardam and had met with him in 1937, when the latter had served an earlier term as prime minister. The French, who were well acquainted with Sasson and thought highly of his operational capabilities, began to collaborate with him in handling Mardam.

The documents show that on November 12, 1945, Sasson met with Mardam in Cairo; he did so again six days later, when Mardam visited Jerusalem as head of an Arab League delegation to arrange Palestinian representation in the League. Following these encounters, Ben-Gurion met with Sasson, and in a diary entry of November 22, related details of the Jewish Agency official’s conversations with Mardam. This is one of the few occasions when Mardam can be identified directly as an intelligence source of Ben-Gurion’s. In the years that followed, both French intelligence and Sasson concealed by various means the fact that Mardam was the source of information, in order not to expose him.

However, information first uncovered in the diary of Maurice Fischer, an intelligence officer in the military headquarters of the Free French Forces in Beirut, who had previously served in the Haganah pre-state militia and was later to become Israel’s first ambassador to France, provides additional evidence that Mardam was an important source of information for Ben-Gurion. Fischer writes that Mardam revealed the secret Anglo-Iraqi plan to establish the so-called Greater Syria to Zionist agents in Cairo.

Further confirmation of the Syrian envoy’s importance vis-a-vis the Zionist effort appears in a report by Nahum Wilensky, who served as liaison between Fischer and the top ranks of the Agency’s political department. In a report in September 1945, he noted that a “[French] general related, among other items, that the French are in possession of authoritative documents attesting that many Syrian leaders received sums of money from the English. The French are waiting for a propitious moment to publish these papers, and in the meantime are using them to put pressure on the leaders named in the documents. Heading the list is Mardam.”

From July 1945, Ben-Gurion had prepared for the possibility of an attack by the Arab states should the Jewish state declare its independence. But the information from Mardam turned the spotlight elsewhere. Ben-Gurion learned that the immediate threat to the establishment of the Jewish state lay not in an attack by Arab armies, but rather in the plan of British military commanders and intelligence agencies in the Middle East to thwart that development by various other means. These included declaring the Haganah militia a terrorist organization and disarming it, and implementing the Greater Syria plan, under which a limited Jewish entity would be created in Mandatory Palestine, but not an independent state. It was apparently also Mardam who revealed the fact that British intelligence had recruited an agent who was operating in the Jewish Agency and conveying to his superiors information about the discussions being held by the Agency’s leadership, including copies of the minutes of its most secret meetings.

According to the information passed on by Mardam, the Arab rulers who were fearful of Soviet intervention had decided to assist the British in the event of an all-out war in the Middle East between the Soviet Union and the West, while London’s policy was to play for time in order to rehabilitate its economy and set relations with the United States on a solid footing. As to the Palestinian question, in deliberations of the Arab League council concern was expressed that ongoing Jewish immigration to Palestine would allow the Haganah to field an army of an estimated 80,000 troops and that “we will never be able to match them in preparation and organization, even if the English help us.” Accordingly, the Arab leaders wanted the British Army to remain in Palestine.

In the end, the Greater Syria scheme was foiled by the Saudi monarch, Ibn Saud, who saw it as a threat to his kingdom. He enlisted the support of U.S. President Harry Truman and the State Department, resulting in heavy pressure being brought to bear on London. On July 14, 1946, the British government was compelled to declare that it did not support the Greater Syria project. Nevertheless, the British military and secret services in the Middle East continued their efforts to establish a Hashemite Greater Syria as part of a regional defense alliance against the Soviet threat.

BACK TO DAMASCUS

The information that was conveyed through his Mardem to David Ben-Gurion was critical to the Zionist leader’s strategy during the period leading up to the state’s establishment.

The events that occurred in 1946 confirmed the accuracy of the information conveyed by Mardam about British military intentions in Palestine. To begin with, in May of that year Brig. Iltyd Clayton, in collaboration with Abd al-Rahman al-Azzam, secretary of the Arab League and also a British agent, initiated a meeting of the heads of the Arab states at the Inshas Palace in Cairo. The conference’s resolutions asserted for the first time that Zionism constituted a danger not only to the Palestinians but to all the Arab states. A second meeting of the Arab League council was held in June in Bloudan, near Damascus. Some of its resolutions, which were secret, stated that the danger existed of a military confrontation with the Zionist movement, and in that case the Arab states would be duty-bound to assist their Palestinian brethren with money, arms and manpower.

Mardam was present at the Bloudan discussions, as was Sasson, who returned thereafter to Jerusalem with the information about the secret resolutions.

Subsequent moves by the British military and secret services corroborated Mardam’s information. On June 29, 1946, in what was known as “the Agatha Operation” – or “Black Sabbath,” in Hebrew – British Army units arrested leaders of the Jewish Agency, notably foreign policy head Moshe Sharett, confiscated files in the Agency’s Jerusalem headquarters and raided a large number of kibbutzim in a search for illegal arms. The true goal of the operation was to disarm the Haganah and replace the “extremist leadership” – first and foremost Ben-Gurion – with more moderate figures.

The British operation largely failed, as details about it had leaked to the Haganah’s leadership two months earlier. Ben-Gurion escaped arrest, as he was in Paris at the time. The British also tried to find proof of French support for the Zionist movement – the files of Eliahu Sasson were among the first they seized – but they found nothing that might suggest it.

To justify the Agatha Operation, on July 25, three days after the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the British government published a “white paper,” which included intercepted coded cables that it claimed indicated that the leaders of the Jewish Agency and the Haganah were responsible for acts of terrorism. Two days later, Ben-Gurion held a press conference in Paris in which he sharply condemned the blowing up of the King David Hotel by the Revisionist Irgun (Etzel) militia, rejected the claims of Jewish Agency and Haganah involvement in terrorism and imputed responsibility for Black Sabbath to the commanders of the British Army in Cairo and to officials in the Foreign Office.

He was more explicit in a message to the Mapai party conference on August 23: “The assault of June 29 was prepared in March or April this year by the initiators of British policy in the Middle East – the most reactionary circle of the diplomatic, military and colonial bureaucracy, whose center is in Cairo.” After all, Ben-Gurion had known about these schemes earlier, from information provided by Mardam.

STRINGS AND TRIGGERS

In December 1946, Clayton forced Syrian President Quwatly to remove the prime minister, Saadallah al-Jabiri, because of his part in scuttling the Greater Syria plan, and to replace him with Jamil Mardam. The move was intended to make it possible for Mardam to ensure a parliamentary majority for the plan. But Mardam now began to distance himself from the British – although MI6 continued to see him as a trusted agent – and to demonstrate greater readiness to cooperate with the French. Indirect corroboration of this is found in Syrian government documents. For example, Mardam cautioned his ambassador in London about intrigues of “our British friends who are warning us about French attempts to stir ferment among the Druze and the Bedouin tribes in the Syrian Desert against the government in Damascus, when in practice their agents are responsible for this.”

Ben-Gurion learned that the immediate threat to the establishment of the Jewish state lay not in an attack by Arab armies, but rather in the British plan to thwart that development by other means.

Mardam’s return to Damascus from Cairo enabled the French to run him directly, without Sasson’s mediation. In the summer of 1946, France had established diplomatic relations with Syria and established a consulate in Damascus in which intelligence agents operated under diplomatic guise. These representatives were able to meet with Mardam in their official capacity without arousing suspicion.

In any event, after the failure of British efforts to resolve by force the problem of the Jews in Palestine, the mission was imposed on the Arab armies. I have described this stage, which began in August 1947 and reached its peak with the invasion of the nascent Jewish state by the Arab armies following the state’s establishment, in May 1948, in two previous articles in Haaretz (September 2014; May 2020). René Neville, the French consul in Jerusalem, rightly termed Clayton and other British agents as “string pullers” and the Arab leaders who were maneuvered by them as “squeezers of the trigger.”

In the wake of the defeat of the Arab states in the 1948 war, storm winds of political, social and economic unrest swept the old regimes in Syria, Egypt and Iraq. One of the victims of the upheavals was Jamil Mardam. In December, following an acute political-economic crisis in Syria, he was again forced to step down as prime minister. He spent his last years in Cairo, where he died in 1960, with the chapter in his life in which he collaborated with the French and the Zionists remaining unknown until now.

In February 1947, Ben-Gurion met in London with British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and praised Mardam as a moderate Arab leader. Probably, had circumstances permitted, Ben-Gurion would have expressed himself even more warmly about the Syrian prime minister.

 

The writer of the above article, Meir Zamir, is professor emeritus at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His book on the secret Anglo-French war in the Middle East and Israel’s establishment will be published next year.

His research over the years has been very interesting.

See, for example:

https://www.joshualandis.com/blog/britains-treachery-frances-revenge-by-meir-zamir/

http://myrightword.blogspot.com/2019/09/albion-in-palestine-british-who-tried.html

 

LUMPING ARAFAT AND PERES TOGETHER AS ‘EQUALLY QUESTIONABLE’

Tom Gross adds:

The important article below is prompted by the ongoing massacre of hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians in recent days by Ethiopian security forces. The operations were reportedly ordered by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who was awarded last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

However, I find it disappointing, though not surprising, that in their article the New York Times has lumped together Yasser Arafat with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. Peres was a genuine man of peace, Rabin was assassinated shortly after being awarded the prize, but (not mentioned by the New York Times in the piece below) Arafat launched a bloody wave of suicide bombings against school children and others (such as the bat mitzvah massacre) in which many 12-year-old girls were deliberately killed and maimed.

I have previously questioned in my writings why the New York Times mislead its readers into thinking that Hamas was responsible for most of the suicide bombings of the so-called second intifada, when in fact Arafat-controlled and financed groups such as the Al-Aqsa martyrs brigade were responsible for more attacks on civilians during the intifada than Hamas was.

See for example: http://www.tomgrossmedia.com/NewYorkTimes.htm

CNN (who called Arafat “romantic”), The Guardian (which compared Arafat to “Moses”) and the BBC (whose correspondent cried on air in sadness when Arafat died) were perhaps even more partisan than the New York Times.

See for example: http://www.tomgrossmedia.com/ArafatArticles.html

 

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE: A GROWING LIST OF QUESTIONABLE CHOICES

Nobel Peace Prize: A Growing List of Questionable Choices

From Aung San Suu Kyi to Abiy Ahmed, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded at least six times in the past three decades to recipients whose recognition is being second-guessed.

By Rick Gladstone
New York Times
November 13, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/12/world/nobel-peace-prize-list.html

One ordered his country’s armed forces to crush a defiant region’s resistance. Another ignored genocidal killings of a minority. Some had pushed for peaceful outcomes, but the achievements exalted at the time proved flawed or ineffective in hindsight.

All were winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

At least six times in recent decades, the Norwegian committee that awards the annual prize has picked recipients whose actions and behavior — either before or after the honor was given — have been viewed as unworthy or in some cases even absurd.

The moves this month by Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, to violently suppress the Tigray region and risk plunging Africa’s second most-populous country into a disastrous civil war have reinforced doubts about the Nobel committee’s thinking and secretive deliberations.

“The committee can always play it safe with candidates who are completely uncontroversial, for past achievements,” said Henrik Urdal, director and research professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, which analyzes the Nobel Peace Prize selections.

But especially in recent years, Mr. Urdal said, the committee had “tried to give awards for processes, for trying to encourage the awardees to live up to the prize, and that’s an extremely risky business.”

Here are examples of some questionable choices, in reverse chronological order:

ABIY AHMED, 2019

The committee chose Mr. Abiy for work he did in the first few months after taking office in 2018 — introducing democratic changes after an era of repression, releasing political prisoners, loosening restraints on the media and, in particular, resolving the protracted border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.

But in early November Mr. Abiy ordered military operations and airstrikes in Tigray, a region whose leaders had defied him by proceeding with an election that had been called off because of the pandemic. As fighting escalates, and refugees stream into neighboring Sudan, Mr. Abiy’s government has declared a state of emergency and cut off communications to the region.

JUAN MANUEL SANTOS, 2016

Mr. Santos, president of Colombia at the time, was honored “for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end” by having attempted to make peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a leftist guerrilla group.

The award was announced just days after Colombians had narrowly rejected the peace agreement in a referendum, a deep embarrassment to Mr. Santos. While a peace deal was eventually pushed through the country’s legislature, recent developments in the country suggest it is once again descending into conflict.

BARACK OBAMA, 2009

Barely into his first term as president, Mr. Obama won “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” But many critics, some supporters and even Mr. Obama himself questioned the choice, given that he had yet to achieve any significant result for the cause of world peace. “For what?” he recalled having asked in his autobiography upon learning that he had been picked.

Some commentators said the Nobel committee had made an “aspirational choice,” seeing potential in Mr. Obama’s hopes for a more tranquil world, punctuated by his desire to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Mr. Obama authorized a surge of American troops into Afghanistan and presided over a vast expansion in the drone strike program. It would also be a few more years before most U.S. forces in Iraq would leave.

KIM DAE-JUNG, 2000

Mr. Kim, who went from dissident, exile and death-row prisoner during South Korea’s authoritarian era to become president, was awarded the prize for work to promote “democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.” He went on a groundbreaking trip to North Korea, where he met with his counterpart, Kim Jong-il, advancing a thaw in relations and backing the goal of eventual reunification.

But the two countries have remained in a technical state of war, and under Kim Jong-il’s son and successor, Kim Jong-un, North Korea has developed an arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles. In some ways, the prospect of peace between the two Koreas seems even more remote, despite meetings in the past few years between Kim Jong-un and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, and with President Trump.

YASIR ARAFAT, SHIMON PERES AND YITZHAK RABIN, 1994

The chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and two statesmen of Israel were jointly recognized for “their efforts to create peace in the Middle East,” through the signing of the so-called Oslo Accords aimed at reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis.

Mr. Rabin, then prime minister, was assassinated in 1995 by an Israeli fanatic who opposed a peace agreement. And efforts since then to resolve the conflict have repeatedly faltered, punctuated by bouts of violence and bitter recriminations. Doubts about a proposed two-state solution have only intensified in recent years, amid threats by Israel to annex territory in the occupied West Bank.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI, 1991

Aung San Suu Kyi, a founder of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy, was a hero of the world’s human rights advocates during the years of brutal suppression by a military junta, which kept her under house arrest. The Nobel committee cited “her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights” in awarding the prize. Myanmar’s generals would not release her until 2010, and she has since become the top civilian leader in the country.

Since rising to power, however, Aung San Suu Kyi has undergone what many rights advocates describe as a complete makeover, rejecting evidence that Myanmar has systematically and brutally persecuted the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. Defending Myanmar at the International Court of Justice last year against accusations of genocide, she argued that there had been no orchestrated campaign.

Some scholars of Nobel history said that even with flawed choices, the peace prize retains an inherent value.

“I would say that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to individuals and organizations that did not always live up to its ideals,” said Richard B. Gunderman, a professor at Indiana University who has written about it, “but the prize itself still highlights peace as an overarching aspiration in international relations.”

 

WILL NETANYAHU STRIKE IRAN? UNLIKELY, BUT TRUMP MIGHT

Will Netanyahu Strike Iran? Unlikely, but Trump Might
Faced with the most unpredictable president to ever sit in the White House, Israeli officials are trying to decipher Trump’s intentions about Iran until January
By Amos Harel
Haaretz
November 13, 2020

https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-will-netanyahu-strike-iran-unlikely-but-trump-might-1.9306794

Mike Pompeo will visit the Middle East, including Israel, next week. The timing is interesting. What could the outgoing U.S. secretary of state be after here, with the coronavirus pandemic still raging and his boss supposedly packing his bags after his clear-cut loss to Joe Biden in the presidential election?

One of President Donald Trump’s last loyalists, Pompeo was the fellow who declared this week that Washington is indeed preparing for a governmental transition next January 20 – from the first Trump administration to the second Trump administration. This is the unswerving loyalty that ensured Pompeo’s survival as secretary of state, during a period in which the president quickly got fed up with most of his senior officials. Just this week, Trump completed another night of the long knives in the Pentagon and dumped, as expected, a number of officials, notably the defense secretary, Mark Esper. The president never forgave Esper for his opposition to sending the army into the streets last summer to pummel the demonstrators against him. Some of the new appointments come from the lunatic fringes of the American right wing, from realms where conspiracy theories are standard fare.

An evil spirit is hovering over the American capital these days. Along with purges at the top, Trump and his advisers are busy managing a battle of legal self-defense with the aim of overturning the election result, or at least of disrupting Biden’s entry into the White House. Despite the lurid screams of the Trump cult in the United States and its clones in Israel, the overwhelming majority of American experts believe that the president doesn’t have a legal case to prove systematic voter fraud.

The question is whether Trump, who never intended to concede the election, is only immersed in processing his mourning and his advisers are flowing with him, or whether there is a plot afoot, desperate and hopeless, to thwart the transition of power. The most likely explanation is that Trump, like the renter of an apartment who has turned out to be an insufferable nag, is actually negotiating the terms of his departure. If he manages to maintain, over time, the notion held by some of his voters that the election was stolen from him, he will entrench his status in the Republican Party, perhaps launch a new right-wing television network, “Trump TV,” and position himself for the 2024 election.

The New York Times, quoting senior sources in the Pentagon, reported this week that the concern there is that Trump is planning one last dramatic act before he leaves – a military attack in Iran or Venezuela. Gen. H.R. McMaster, one of the four national security advisers Trump went through, told Fox News on Wednesday that there is a possibility Israel will attack Iranian nuclear facilities before Trump leaves office.

In every year between 2009 and 2013, as was reported superficially at the time and in greater detail afterward, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considered launching a massive air strike against Iran. On one occasion, an argument broke out between Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, and, on the other side, Mossad chief Meir Dagan. The latter objected to “squeezing the spring,” the directive to prepare for an attack within the space of a few weeks.

American experts believed then that the possible timing for an attack would depend on the “weather window,” referring to the cloud conditions that prevail over Iran in the winter and that would hamper an attack in that season. In the Trump era, against the background of the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran, the question of bombing the country did not arise directly until now. However, a series of incidents occurred that obligated the use of more limited force: the Mossad’s theft of Iran’s nuclear archive (revealed in May 2018), the assassination by the United States of Gen. Qasem Soleimani (last January) and a mysterious explosion, for which no one claimed responsibility, in a uranium enrichment facility in Natanz (last July).

Ahead of Pompeo, the State Department’s “special representative for Iran and Venezuela,” Elliott Abrams, visited Israel this week. Asked about a possible Israeli military strike, Abrams repeated an anecdote from 2007, during the George W. Bush administration. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wanted to recruit the Americans for a joint move to attack the nuclear facility that North Korea had built in Syria. “Bush replied that America is not a traffic cop,” Abrams noted. “We don’t deal with green lights or red lights.”

Abrams said his visit was meant to coordinate the sharpening of the sanctions plan, “maximum pressure,” against Iran. In the background is the intention of the Biden administration to renew the negotiations on the nuclear agreement after he enters office or, more likely, after the Iranian presidential election next June.

Trump is the least predictable U.S. president ever. There’s a certain edginess in Israel over the attempt to grasp his intentions concerning Iran during the transition period. If Trump is sharing his thoughts with Netanyahu, the prime minister so far is not updating the defense establishment. It appears unreasonable, in these circumstances, that Netanyahu will seek to impose on his coalition allies from Kahol Lavan (and on the Israel Defense Forces high command, which has reservations) a unilateral Israeli move in Iran. But it’s hard to completely rule out an American operation, with Israel getting some of the ricochets of the Iranian response to it.

 

BIDEN KNOWS WHAT THE OTHER SIDE IS THINKING

Biden Knows What the Other Side Is Thinking
Patience costs nothing. Letting the process play out will strengthen faith in America’s institutions.
By Peggy Noonan
Wall Street Journal
November 13, 2020

https://www.wsj.com/articles/biden-knows-what-the-other-side-is-thinking-11605223988

Where are we? Waiting, as the process plays out. In a week of talking to Republican political leaders, all by nature competitive, most veterans of tough races, I haven’t found one who believes Donald Trump won. All believe that there was fraud in the vote, and that this year’s semicrazy pandemic rules made clear the need for some baseline national voting standards. But none believe, though some seemed hoping, there was enough fraud to change the result.

They expect this will become clear through failed lawsuits and the production by the states of final certified votes. Would it be better if Republican senators, say, came forward and asserted the obvious, that Joe Biden won? Yes, if only for the sake of honesty and to show the Biden half of the country that they can see and have eyes.

But here is a rough sense of how some senators see things. They are leaders in a sharply, at times violently divided country and represent a party half of whose base is fed, daily, algorithmic incitements to suspicion and anger. The president leads this, fans it, gains from it. They lack the credibility with Mr. Trump’s base that the president has. They don’t want to jeopardize themselves over something that will be resolved through time. So hold off, lower the temperature, support the system. Recounts and court decisions will reassure some voters that every effort was made to get at the truth. This can buttress confidence in democratic processes and encourage a sense of their fundamental soundness. Taking time to get it right will have the effect of tamping down a destructive stabbed-in-the-back mythology among Trump supporters inclined in that direction.

I suspect the long process will also have the effect, in the end, of strengthening the position of the incoming president, Mr. Biden. The courts and the close states examined his victory and found it to be real. Onward.

Something happened Tuesday that I realized I didn’t think I’d witnessed in a decade. It was when Mr. Biden spoke and took a few questions in Wilmington, Del. I got the distinct impression as the old Senate veteran spoke that he knew exactly what the other side was thinking and . . . understood. He offered a pitch-perfect, bemused acceptance of the president’s behavior. Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede is “an embarrassment,” no more: “The fact that they’re not willing to acknowledge who won at this point is not of much consequence in our planning and what we’re able to do.” He condemned no one. “I hope I get a chance to speak to Mitch”—McConnell, the Senate majority leader.

On being denied the usual courtesy of the presidential daily briefing, “Obviously the PDB would be useful, but not necessary.”

Everyone said it was good but no, it was a small master class.

The past few days I reached out to some wise people, accomplished individuals whose love of country has been expressed through their careers.

I told the former Indiana governor and current president of Purdue University that I was calling people I knew to be sane. “That won’t keep you busy,” Mitch Daniels said.

He was upbeat on the election. “It seems to me the country just basically said it hadn’t lost its mind. I was stunned at the success the Republicans had in the congressional elections and in the state initiatives.”

He was hopeful about the presidential impasse. “I honestly think this mess offers an opportunity to, at the right moment, have a Goldwater moment.” That was when Republican members of Congress went to President Richard Nixon, during Watergate, and told him it was over. It was a moment of country over party. “It would signal that we got to get on with the business of the country now,” Mr. Daniels said.

Bill Brock, a former representative, senator, cabinet member and head of the Republican National Committee, believes in his party as a constructive force in the world. He doesn’t like the president using words like “stolen” when he speaks of the election: “Of course there was some fraud. Did it change the outcome? No. . . . This leaves a situation where President Trump uses his words and his desire to go out in the field again, but the effect will be to disillusion his own supporters. He’s using their loyalty to justify the fact that he lost an election that he did not believe he’d lose. He’s using their loyalty to cover the fact he lost. And he exposes them to the hazard of finding out that the election was over and that there was no theft of adequate size to change the outcome.”

He believes Mr. Trump sent his followers on the field without weapons. His voters chose him because they were “desperate for someone who they felt understood them, that no one else hears them. They wanted a voice and they got him and he was a loud voice and he’d be heard, and he changed the world in many good ways. But that voice now is in defense of his own situation.

“Nothing will change the results in a given state. The Biden margin is now sufficient that it would take all the close states. That is not possible. To leave the impression it is possible will leave many people disillusioned.”

As for Mr. McConnell, “Mitch is trying to keep people together so there’s some coherence” when the process is over.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls for sensitivity and a sense of mutual give. On Sunday she tweeted: “Congratulations President-elect @JoeBiden and Vice President-elect @KamalaHarris.”

But she also told me, “We need to worry about how bitterly divided we are. The level of anger is so high.” Trump supporters feel he was never given a chance: “I think we all need to take a deep breath. More than 70 million Americans voted for President Trump, and some reassurance through the process that this has been done fairly is not a bad thing.”

“It will be better when all this is over, and done expeditiously. I trust, and I think most Americans trust, the courts to get this right.”

As for the transition, “most of what you need to do in a transition you can do without the formality. The hardest part is getting your team in place, making personnel decisions, and then vetting those you’ve chosen. It’s not ideal that it hasn’t formally started. It would have been ideal to have it settled on election night and ideal to have a ‘normal’ transition, but they are experienced people.”

On the withholding of the presidential daily briefing, she says, “Sen. Harris has served on the Intelligence Committee, there is not much that will surprise her. Joe Biden has been vice president for eight years. The idea that we’re endangering national security is, I think, overblown.”

She is a veteran of Bush v. Gore. The official Bush transition didn’t begin until after the Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 12, 2000. Until then everything was uncertain—”it all came down to 537 votes in Florida, not multiple states with significant margins. I remember Gov. Bush calling me and saying, ‘I’d like you to be national security adviser.’ And I thought but didn’t say, ‘Yes sir, if you’re president.’ “

Like everyone else I spoke to she wanted to see election reform.

Beyond that: “Trust the process that we are in. Our institutions work.”

 

MEET RON KLAIN, FORMER ‘EBOLA CZAR’ AND BIDEN’S NEW CHIEF OF STAFF

Meet Ron Klain, Former ‘Ebola Czar’ and Biden’s New Chief of Staff
In 2014, Obama named Klain to serve as the ‘Ebola Czar’ after an outbreak in West Africa that ended up killing thousands around the globe
Reuters
November 13, 2020

Ron Klain was once tapped by Democratic President Barack Obama to safeguard the United States from the threat of a lethal virus. As President-elect Joe Biden’s chief of staff, he will take on a similar mission.

In 2014, Obama named Klain, who is Jewish, to serve as the “Ebola Czar” after an outbreak in West Africa that ended up killing thousands around the globe. All in all, only 11 people were treated in the United States for the virus and two died.

Biden has made combating the resurgent coronavirus, which has killed more than 239,000 people in the United States, his top priority as he looks toward taking office in January. He tapped Klain as his chief of staff late on Wednesday, and the longtime adviser is expected to assume a leading role in crafting a COVID-19 action plan.

“Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together,” Biden said in a statement. “His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again.”

Klain, in a statement, called his selection “the honor of a lifetime.”

Biden has begun building his administration since clinching enough electoral votes to win the Nov. 3 election. President Donald Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, has yet to concede and is pursuing legal challenges to try to overturn the results.

Klain, 59, functioned as an outside councillor to Biden during the campaign, particularly concerning the coronavirus, and spoke almost daily with the candidate, Klain has said in media interviews.

He served as Biden’s top aide in the White House before, when Biden was vice president under Obama. He held the same job under Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton administration.

Gore called Klain “a trusted and capable” adviser.

“He was always highly informed and his advice was always grounded in exceptional command of the policy process, the merits of the arguments, and the political and justice context,” the former vice president told Reuters.

Klain’s stint in the White House with Biden came during the fallout from the 2008-2009 financial crisis, when Biden was charged by Obama with overseeing implementation of the $787 billion Recovery Act to needy state and local governments.

Biden and Klain worked to ensure the money was directed to “shovel-ready” projects with a minimum of waste and fraud. At times, there were complaints from some states and cities that the funds were going out the door too slowly.

Biden said his office was trying to be methodical in getting the money to where it would be most effective.

‘LET THE MEDICAL EXPERTS BE THE TOUCHSTONE’

After Klain left Biden’s office, Obama brought him back to manage the White House response to the Ebola threat, a move that was criticized by some because the Harvard Law School graduate was not a public health expert.

Klain won praise from some public health experts, however, for his skill at manipulating the levers of government. He coordinated the U.S. response to the threat among the various agencies involved and focused on getting assistance to West Africa to help contain the epidemic, insisting on regular face-to-face meetings so he could identify problems quickly, he said in an interview with WIRED magazine earlier this year.

“The high-level lessons applicable today are, first and foremost, let the medical experts be the touchstone of the response - let them be the people who are formulating this strategy, let them be the spokespeople,” Klain told the magazine.

Klain drew upon that experience to advise Biden this year about the coronavirus outbreak. He recorded a viral video for the campaign during the first spike in COVID-19 cases, detailing what he felt were the Trump administration’s failures on the coronavirus with the assistance of a whiteboard.

Klain’s history with Biden dates back to Biden’s chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1980s. In 1991, when the committee held the contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas, Klain, the committee’s top lawyer, was charged with investigating sexual harassment claims against Thomas made by Anita Hill.

Criticism of Biden’s treatment of Hill by women’s groups followed him into his 2020 presidential run. Klain said in 2018 on Twitter that he never doubted the veracity of her allegations.

Klain’s experience with confirmation processes – he also shepherded the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg onto the court during President Bill Clinton’s administration – is expected by Biden aides to be a help with a Senate that may stay under Republican control. Klain himself clerked on the court for Justice Byron White.

Klain was also active on Gore’s behalf in the 2000 Florida recount drama that saw the U.S. Supreme Court side with Republican George W. Bush, making him president over Gore. Klain was played by Kevin Spacey in the HBO movie “Recount.”

 

WHAT GENTILES CAN LEARN FROM LORD SACKS

What Gentiles Can Learn From Lord Sacks
The late British rabbi was the most gifted voice for biblical belief of our time.
By Meir Soloveichik
Wall Street Journal
November 13, 2020

https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-gentiles-can-learn-from-lord-sacks-11605221911

Lord Jonathan Sacks, a former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, died Saturday at 72. When I first heard the news, my mind went to one of the least Jewish places in the world: the Vatican.

In 2014 we joined other faith leaders and theologians at a Holy See-sponsored conference on the institution of the family. Sacks’s spellbinding speech combined science, sociology and the Bible—all analyzed with the eloquence that made him famous. “The family,” he told the audience, “man, woman, and child, is not one lifestyle choice among many. It is the best means we have yet discovered for nurturing future generations and enabling children to grow in a matrix of stability and love.”

Sacks concluded that when husband and wife turn in faithfulness to one another, “we come as close as we will ever get to God himself, bringing new life into being, turning the prose of biology into the poetry of the human spirit, redeeming the darkness of the world by the radiance of love.” It was the only moment I can recall that the conference’s entire audience rose in sustained applause. In the center of what had been called Christendom, a rabbi best expressed what the West had once believed.

The moment reflected what may be Sacks’s most important legacy. Tributes to him have described his influence on the Jewish community; his globally popular writings on the Torah; and his many books in which he brilliantly expounded Judaic ideas. But he also was—for Europe in general and the U.K. in particular—the most gifted voice for biblical belief in his time.

There was a certain symmetry there. Britain gave the contemporary world two of its most influential atheists, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. And it was the same nation’s chief rabbi who developed the most forceful response to them. Sacks debated Mr. Dawkins directly on television. In one exchange, Sacks said that in attacking Jewish scripture without looking to how religious tradition had interpreted them, Mr. Dawkins imitated anti-Semites. Throughout European history bigots had twisted Hebraic texts to foment hatred of the Jewish faith.

Sacks wrote that for all their fame as critics of traditional religion, the New Atheists lacked “the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche.” One failed, he reflected, to get the slightest sense that they have grappled with the issues that science alone could not address: “the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond.” To atheists like Mr. Dawkins, Sacks applied a beloved aphorism, adapted from an Oxford don: On the surface he’s profound, but deep down he’s superficial.

Europe’s embrace of secularism, Sacks noted, was followed by a refusal to have children. “Europe is dying,” he bluntly observed in 2009. He said this was an unspeakable truth but he said it all the same. And because he always spoke in a measured manner, without antagonism, his voice reverberated. In the 20th century it was communism that posed the greatest threat to people of faith. Several European leaders capably made the case against it. In 21st-century Europe, contemporary secularism continues its societal march, and it was Sacks who most ably stood atop the rhetorical religious ramparts. Who will take his place?

The tragedy of Sacks’s death was rendered more profound by its timing. His funeral ought to have been attended not only by rabbis but by priests, prime ministers, cardinals, archbishops, and members of the royal family. All of them were inspired by his ideas, and many looked to him as Europe’s defender of faith. But Sacks died during the U.K. Covid-19 lockdown. The mere legal maximum of 30 people took part in paying tribute to this remarkable man.

In her eulogy, Sacks’s daughter Gila described how, immediately after her father’s death, she turned to his most recently published reflections on the Torah passage read in synagogue that Sabbath. Jews around the world will continue to read his exegetical insights and learn from his remarkable mind. In this we will find consolation. But for other Europeans of faith whose greatest intellectual defender is now gone, what has been lost may well be irreplaceable.

(Rabbi Soloveichik is director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York.)

 

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