Week of August 5th, 2016

Executive Summary

The Washington community is still focused on the presidential campaign, although the discovery that the Obama Administration sent $400 million in cash to Iran in January has raised the profile of the Iranian nuclear deal.

The Monitor analysis looks at the American Jewish voter and how they will vote in November.  Despite Republican attempts to increase their percentage of the Jewish vote by supporting Israel, a recent Pew survey indicates that Israel isn’t a major concern of most American Jewish voters.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Center for Security Policy looks at the $400 million cash payment to Iran in return for four Americans held in Iran.  They note. “Given the negotiating record of the nuclear talks, it is impossible to believe there was no link between the Iran deal and the release of the American prisoners. More likely, the Obama administration desperately wanted Iran to release the Americans as part of the nuclear agreement but Tehran refused until sanctions were lifted and it received a large ransom payment. This is not the first time the Obama administration has paid ransom to Iran. It paid $500,000 each to free American hikers captured by Iran in 2011 through the government of Oman.”

The Washington Institute looks at the renewed US airstrikes against ISIS in Libya.  They conclude, “In the last several days, the GNA (Government of National Accord) has taken notable steps forward, building some momentum toward establishing its credibility. It has a very long way to go, though, and every day will present significant political, economic, and security struggles. Shortages of medical supplies — as well as electricity and various staples — remain a constant challenge, as illustrated by the recent closure of Tripoli Hospital’s emergency department. And as the French Special Forces incident demonstrated, assuaging segments of Libyan society over the U.S. airstrikes will prove politically challenging. Yet if the strikes can weaken IS holdouts to the point that they can be captured by Libyan forces, such an outcome would not only strengthen the GNA but also benefit America’s standing in Libya, potentially clearing the way for further U.S. contributions to Libya’s stability.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at the unity and solidarity that the recent coup attempt has created among the Turkish political class and Turkish society.  They conclude, “The West’s failure to understand Turkey’s fury towards the coup attempt, and the sense of national unity in its aftermath, has led to rhetoric which risks alienating not only the Turkish government but also Turkish society as a whole, including the pro-Western elite. Turkey, meanwhile, risks turning the post-coup measures into a witch hunt that will serve neither long term domestic stability nor the country’s standing in the international community. Can Turkish democracy emerge stronger out of this crisis, furthering Turkey’s integration into Europe and cooperation with the United States? The answer is yes, but only if all sides stop accusing and start listening.”

The Washington Institute says Assad’s strengthening control of the area around Damascus gives him more flexibility in international negotiations.  They conclude, “The Syrian capital is relatively calm. Public services are operating normally…The international airport is operating again, and the main roads to Homs, Deraa, and Beirut are safe. Such developments can only reassure Assad. Although he still does not control most of the country and his army can barely preserve the recent territorial gains facilitated by the Russian air force’s intervention, Assad feels less threatened because he holds Damascus. And because he no longer needs Putin to defend the airspace over Damascus, he will be less likely to bow to Russian pressure, not to mention other international pressure, to cede power. What Assad does still need in Damascus is continued strong defensive military support from Iran, its proxy Hezbollah, and Iraq Shiite militias. As it stands, without a real military threat to Damascus, neither Assad nor Iran will accept a political transition in Syria, even if Russia agrees to one.”

The CSIS looks at US/Egyptian relations.  They note, “The changes of the last five years have shaken the U.S.-Egyptian relationship to its core. Many Egyptians saw the U.S. government’s efforts to ease the departure from office of long-time ally and President Hosni Mubarak as irrelevant; others saw it as betrayal. Few thought it was a well-fashioned policy.  The U.S. position toward the governments of Mohammed Morsi and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi did not win many friends, either. Many Egyptians have come to

believe that the United States was too accommodating to an elected government that was abusing its power and too critical of an unelected government with clear popular support.

The aggravation went both ways. To many on the U.S. side, the Egyptians were squandering valuable opportunities— first to pursue a genuine democratic opening, and using that opening to chart a new and more effective course to address some of Egypt’s longstanding problems, including poverty and extremism.”

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at Israel’s growing ties around the world.  They note, “Across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, nations have far greater concerns than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Jerusalem is capitalizing on the opportunities that those concerns now offer. It’s working more closely with Egypt, with whom it has enjoyed a mostly cold peace since 1979, due to their shared concerns over terrorist activity in the Sinai Desert. Israel has allowed Egyptian forces back into the Sinai, while Egypt has allowed Israel to use drones to target terrorists. A retired Saudi general visited Israel last week with a delegation of academics and businessmen, reflecting Riyadh’s growing interest in closer ties with Jerusalem as each faces an increasingly aggressive Iran. However important are these growing regional ties, more impressive are the inroads Israel is making in Africa after decades of isolation in the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 – after which a slew of African nations cut ties to the Jewish state under Arab pressure.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at the possibility of Morocco returning to the African Union and the impact on US foreign policy.  The sticking point is Morocco/Algeria differences over the Western Sahara.  They note, “Both Algeria and Morocco provide important strategic benefits to the U.S. on various fronts, and therefore it should continue its policy of dual engagement. Algeria is a strong, tested counterterror partner whereas the fruits of Morocco’s high-publicized “soft” counter-terrorism efforts are yet to be seen. At the same time, however, Morocco expresses willingness and openness to cooperation and fosters engagement with the U.S. that goes beyond military partnership—as evidenced by extensive educational and cultural exchanges. Algeria, on the other hand, appears stuck in a cold-war state of mind with more of a “you need us more than we need you” attitude toward the United States and West generally.  Meanwhile, the U.S. has long taken a backseat on the Western Sahara, tacitly backing Morocco’s claims, while also nodding to Algeria and RASD’s objections about self-determination and human rights. Events are still unfolding, and what will result is still a moving target. Nevertheless, it will benefit policymakers to remain apprised of developments on this front, for it will influence how the U.S. engages Algeria and Morocco bilaterally, as well as the AU and Sahel.”

The Hudson Institute looks at Turkey’s tilt towards Russia and how the US should respond.  They conclude, “President Barack Obama and his administration are not without options, however. To keep Turkey from moving toward Russia, the United States should widen its aperture beyond the Islamic State to include Turkey’s strategic interests in Syria. It should also recalibrate its criticisms of Erdogan, whose paranoia seems justified by the coup. In this endeavor, the Obama administration might draw useful lessons from its predecessor’s management of the crisis in Pakistan in 2007. Rather than alienate its ally, the George W. Bush administration worked behind the scenes to craft a series of incentives and disincentives that influenced Pakistani President President Pervez Musharraf’s decision-making and ultimately solved the crisis.  Today, the United States should stand by the democratically elected government of Turkey, while privately nudging Erdogan to show restraint against his domestic enemies. Most importantly, the United States should offer Turkey assurances about the future political order in Syria while deepening cooperation against the PKK. Our current posture risks not only alienating a crucial NATO ally, but pushing it straight into the arms of Moscow.”




The Jewish Voter in 2016

As the November presidential election nears, the question is how Jewish voters will vote.  The ISIS threat and the attacks against Jewish buildings in Europe make the Jewish community more nervous than usual.  There is the sour Netanyahu/Obama relationship and Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.  Will they continue their tendency to vote Democratic or will Trump garner a larger percentage of Jewish support?

It’s hard to categorize the Jewish vote – especially in 2016.  They may be Jewish, but that doesn’t make them more likely to vote like a Jew.  In the primary, they preferred Clinton to Sanders, who is Jewish.  Nor will the fact that Trump’s daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren make the average Jewish voter more likely to support him.

The Importance of the Jewish Vote

Although Jews represent only 2% of the American population, they have an impact much greater than their small numbers would indicate.

First, the Jewish population is concentrated in few key states.  In 2013, 70 percent of U.S. Jews were living in New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, and Pennsylvania—states whose combined 167 electoral votes make up more than half of the 270 electoral votes a presidential candidate needs to win the election.

This is critical since the US doesn’t select its president by popular vote.  The American presidential general election is an indirect election. American voters in each state cast ballots for a slate of members of the U.S. Electoral College; these electors in turn directly elect the President and Vice President. Most state laws establish a winner-take-all system, wherein the ticket that wins the most votes in the state wins all of that state’s allocated electoral votes.  Thus, the Jewish minority can tip the election one way or the other in those key states.

Second, Jews account for a huge share of the activist base of the Democratic Party and account for much of the money available to Democratic candidates.  Obviously, a shift Jewish support even a little bit away from the Democrats, it makes the Democratic Party less competitive.

Third, Jews are more likely to vote.  In New York City, they are 13% of the Democrats but 20% of the Democratic “reliable” voters; 17% of the Republicans and 24% of the “reliable” Republicans. Therefore, the impact of the Jewish vote is greater than for many other demographics.

A 2013 Pew Research Poll dispels some notions about American Jews and their political interests.  Jewish voters are Democratic for a reason. They believe in the party’s liberal ideology, and identify with its core values, and that despite the effort by the Republican party to align itself with Israel, most American Jews don’t view Israel as essential to their political allegiances in the United States, and even if they did, they think Democratic policy is just fine.  This is supported by the Pew Research Center poll that concluded that only about four-in-ten say that caring about Israel (43%) is essential to their Jewish identity.

So, if concern for Israel doesn’t drive the American Jewish vote, what does?  The economy?  According to an American Jewish Committee poll, the economy tallied almost five times the number of first-place votes as did Israel.  Four percent said “Iran’s nuclear program.”  Only 15 percent of American Jews ranked Israel as one of their three top voting issues.

Clearly, Trump’s solid support for Israel will not win Jewish voters as much as their fear of a sluggish economy.  In fact, Republican pro-Israel advertising is not geared towards the Jewish vote as much as the Evangelical Christian vote.

The Pew survey showed that 70 percent of Jewish voters were Democrats, compared to 49 percent of the general American public. One exception, however, is Orthodox Jews. The Pew study said that 57 percent of Orthodox Jews identify or lean Republican, while 36 percent identify or lean Democrat. But Orthodox Jews currently represent 10% of the Jewish population.

The problem with predicting the future based on past results is that it doesn’t take into account new information.  The effect of movements such as ISIS on Jewish political preference, hasn’t been studied yet.

However, without issues like ISIS attacks in the West, there already appears to be an uptick in Jewish support for Republicans.  This growth in Jewish Republican votes might be attributed to younger Jews who don’t affiliate with a party or who register to identify as independents, although only 17 percent of Jews ages 18-29 identified as Republican in Pew’s 2013 survey.  Republicans can also attract single-issue voters who vote, for instance, exclusively on Israel and Middle East foreign policy.

The Jewish Demographic Time Bomb

However, it’s critical to remember that the complexion of the American Jewish community is changing – a change that could make American Jews more Republican in future elections.

According to a study of New York Jews done four years ago, the image of Jews as liberal, affluent and well educated is wrong. Over the last decade wealthy, Ivy League graduates like those on New York’s Upper West Side have increasingly lost population share relative to Orthodox groups, like the Hasidic population in Brooklyn, where college degrees are rare and poverty rates have reached 43 percent.  Now, 40 percent of Jews in the city identify themselves as Orthodox, an increase from 33 percent in 2002; 74 percent of all Jewish children in the city are Orthodox.  Nearly one in four Jews qualifies as poor according to federal guidelines, an increase from one in five in 2002

Members of these Orthodox groups also have been known to be far more likely to adopt more conservative positions on matters like abortion, same sex marriage, and the Israeli approach to the Palestinians.  In fact, in 2012, Republican Mitt Romney only led Obama by a 51-43 percent margin among New York Jews.

There appears to be a deep split occurring amongst the Jewish community.  While the orthodox Jewish community is growing the non-orthodox community is losing much of its “Jewishness.”  Among non-Orthodox Jews, there has been a weakening in observance of quintessential Jewish practices. Participation in the Jewish Passover is down: 14 percent of households never attend one, almost twice as many as a decade ago. Reform and Conservative movements each lost about 40,000 members between 2002 and 2011; nearly a third of the respondents who identified themselves as Jews said they did not ally themselves with a denomination or claimed no religion.

There are other changes in the American Jewish population.  Today, the majority of American Jews have never visited Israel – the number of Jews who have visited Israel may be as low as one in five.  In fact, some Israeli Jews refer to American Jews as “partial Jews.”

Conversely Jews who visit Israel and American Jews who live in Israel are more likely to vote Republican.  There are an estimated 150,000 Jews living in Israel who are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections- many from swing states.  And, their concerns are more likely to be a pro-Israel stance, strong foreign policy and a strong national defense.  These voters are currently very frustrated with Obama and will likely go for Trump.

This could be seen in the Clinton and Trump speeches in front of AIPAC earlier this year.  The positive response to Trump was so great that the president of AIPAC apologized since AIPAC is supposed to be non-partisan.

However, the typical American Jewish vote will remain elusive for Trump.  The average Jewish voter today has more in common with Hillary Clinton than with Trump.  It will take a major shift in their views to radically change their vote.

However, the Jewish vote may eventually swing into the Republican camp as Orthodox Jews become a greater part of the American Jewish community.  Overall Jewish support for the Democratic Party is in decline: In the 2006 midterm elections, 87 percent of Jews voted for Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives. In the 2014 midterm elections, 66 percent cast ballots for Democrats. That’s a 21-point drop in eight years. This trend may be accelerating in the next election, enough to tip the election in favor of Trump in some critical swing states.

And, it doesn’t require a major shift in the Jewish vote to help Trump win.  For instance, Florida is home to an estimated 500,000 Jewish residents — sizable enough to tip the results in the biggest swing state in the country.  Florida awards 29 electoral votes, more than 10 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.

Changing the outcome “doesn’t require a majority shift,” said Steven Abrams, a county commissioner who was Palm Beach County chairman for Newt Gingrich’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign. “The Jewish vote only needs to change by a percent or two or three in order to make a difference in the outcome of the state.”




Making Choices – The Future of the U.S.-Egyptian Relationship
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
August 2, 2016

A generation ago, a strong U.S.-Egyptian relationship provided an answer to many questions. How could the United States help rally Arab countries against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait?  How could the United States help secure Israel? How could the United States military protect vital assets in the Middle East? And on the

Egyptian side, how could Egypt modernize its military, and who could be a strong economic partner for Egypt’s development? The answer was a strong U.S.-Egyptian

relationship. For good reason, Egypt was a cornerstone of U.S. strategy, and the United States was a cornerstone of Egyptian strategy.

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No International Pariah
By Lawrence J. Haas
American Foreign Policy Council
July 26, 2016
U.S. News & World Report

Israel’s growing diplomatic, military, and economic ties across the Middle East Africa, and Asia should shatter an enduring myth: that the Israel-Palestinian conflict will make Israel an international pariah. These ties reflect not only the foresight of Israel’s leaders, the doggedness of its diplomacy and the strength of its economy, but also the rise of Iran in the region and the spread of terrorism beyond it. Consider the irony. Israel’s ties to the United States and Europe are strained over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, particularly with Washington, the Iranian nuclear deal – even though Israel is the lone nation in the turbulent Middle East that shares the West’s values of freedom and democracy. Meanwhile, Israel’s ties to regional states, African nations and Russia and China are growing due to shared military challenges or economic opportunities – even though Israel has little in common with them. Nevertheless, Israel’s growing global network is enhancing its flexibility on the world stage and reducing Washington’s leverage over Jerusalem. That’s good for Israel at a time of strained U.S.-Israeli relations, and it leaves America and Europe looking obsessed with an issue of reduced global concern.

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Secret Ransom Payment Is More Evidence of the Enormous Fraud of the Iran Deal
By Fred Fleitz
Center for Security Policy
August 3, 2016

The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that the United States secretly sent $400 million in cash on an unmarked cargo plane to Iran on January 17, 2016, to facilitate a swap that day of five innocent Americans held by Iran for seven Iranian criminals held by the U.S. Fourteen additional Iranians were removed from an INTERPOL wanted list as another part of this arrangement. The prisoner swap was announced on the Iran deal’s Implementation Day (January 16) — when most sanctions were lifted from Iran and it received $150 billion in sanctions relief after the IAEA certified that Tehran had complied with certain requirements of the nuclear deal.  Obama officials have denied that the $400 million was a ransom payment. Instead, they say it was the first installment of an American payment to resolve a dispute over a pre-1979 arms deal with the Shah’s government.

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Morocco’s New Africa Policy? The African Union, Algeria, and Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy
By Vish Sakthivel
Foreign Policy Research Institute
July 22, 2016

This past Sunday, Morocco made a surprise move by sending a delegation to the African Union (AU)—the transnational union charged with encouraging African nations’ solidarity and the politico-economic integration of the full continent. Leaving the organization over 30 years ago, it has been the only non-member nation in Africa. King Mohammed VI of Morocco, in his official request to be reinstated in a letter to the AU chairperson affirmed, “The time has come for Morocco to find its organic place within the African Union.” Ahead of this request the small North African kingdom is also attempting a measured rapprochement with its regional rival, Algeria. The results remain to be seen, and should be watched.  Morocco left the AU in protest in 1984 after the supranational body recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (RASD, as it is known by its French acronym). RASD controls part of the Western Sahara east of the disputed region’s dividing wall (the berm). Morocco has laid claim to the Western Sahara since 1975, while RASD (with Algeria’s backing) aims to end the Morocco presence (which many call an occupation) in the disputed region. Morocco would like to rejoin the AU on the condition that the RASD’s membership is suspended.

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Coup Attempt Unifies Turkey — But Could Distance the West
By Ozgur Unluhisarcikli
German Marshall Fund
August 2, 2016

The international community has failed to fully grasp the sense of unity and solidarity the recent coup attempt has created among the Turkish political class and Turkish society as a whole. Not only did all parties in the parliament denounce the coup attempt, even when it appeared to be winning, but they also drew similar conclusions as to who was behind it. While opposition parties have raised legitimate concerns about rule of law and human rights, they generally have supported the measures taken by the government to eliminate this specific threat to Turkish democracy. President Erdoğan has been atypically inclusive towards the opposition parties (except the pro-Kurdish Party) and Prime Minister Yıldırım has gone out of his way to rule by consensus rather than by majority.

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Turkey’s Tilt Toward Moscow
By Peter Rough
Hudson Institute
August 3, 2016

On August 9, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will travel to St. Petersburg, where he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, for the first time since November 2015. For the past two weeks, a steady parade of Turkish ministers have flown to Moscow to lay the groundwork — confirmation that the Turkish-Russian relationship, on ice for the past eight months, is headed for a summer thaw. But the St. Petersburg meeting is more than just another summit — it is the opening ceremony for a broader Turkish tilt toward Moscow. The bases for this Russian-Turkish rapprochement are manifold, but the primary impetus is Bashar al-Assad’s near-restoration in Syria. In the past, Assad had been the major obstacle to improved ties between Russia and Turkey. The countries’ poor relations reached a boiling point when Turkey shot down an Su-24 Russian fighter jet last November. The situation in Syria has changed dramatically since that episode, however. The Russian-Iranian offensive in support of Assad has checkmated Turkey, shutting Ankara out of northern Syria. Now, Moscow and Tehran are in the midst of an operation to restore Assad’s control over Syria’s second city of Aleppo. Even an obstinate leader like Erdogan cannot ignore the hard reality that Assad is here to stay.

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U.S. Strikes Islamic State in Libya
By Ben Fishman
Washington Institute
August 2, 2016

The Department of Defense confirmed yesterday that the United States had conducted airstrikes on the Islamic State (IS) stronghold of Sirte, Libya. This development, together with a long-overdue agreement on oil production, represents a much-needed win for the Government of National Accord (GNA), as Libya’s interim government is known. Nevertheless, Libya still confronts deep instability.  According to Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, the “precision” strikes on IS targets were conducted at the GNA’s request, consistent with the overall U.S. approach to countering the jihadist group by supporting “capable and motivated local partners.” Following considerable progress in early June by Libyan militias against IS in Sirte, they encountered stiff resistance and suffered significant casualties from snipers and improvised explosive devices when trying to advance on the central part of the city and the Ouagadougou Conference Center, formerly used by Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi to host Arab and African dignitaries. The airstrikes represent an additional U.S. step beyond the previously acknowledged provision of intelligence and tactical advice to GNA-aligned militias in the battle for Sirte.

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Damascus Control Emboldens Assad Nationally
By Fabrice Balanche
Washington Institute
August 2, 2016
PolicyWatch 2665

The next round of Geneva peace negotiations for Syria is set to begin this month, but President Bashar al-Assad’s recently tightened grip over Damascus already has the Syrian opposition in a tough spot. Indeed, focus on the battle of Aleppo, where regime forces have also advanced recently has distracted attention from the Syrian army’s slow but sure recapture of the rebel-held outskirts of the Syrian capital.

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