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Life and Military Service of 2005 JINSA Grateful Nation Honoree Depicted in American Sniper

January 30, 2015

kyleSince 2003, JINSA has presented the Grateful Nation Award annually to six young heroes recognized for having distinguished themselves through superior conduct in the War on Terror. This award is given to a representative of each branch of the U.S. military and the U.S. Special Operations Command.

In 2005, the Grateful Nation Award Special Operations Command honoree was Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle, USN, whose life and military service are featured in the blockbuster movie, American Sniper. Until his passing in 2013, Chris remained a close, active, and beloved member of the JINSA family. In fact, he included the photo to the right in his New York Times best-selling book.

Below is his citation for the award in 2005:

During the period of November 1 to December 1, 2004, Petty Officer Second Class Christopher Kyle, a Navy SEAL, displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action during operations against the enemy as a SEAL Sniper in direct support of Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, Regimental Combat Team 1, First Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, deployed in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Al Fajr.

Throughout 20 days of combat operations in the city of Al Fallujah, his professionalism and expertise served as an example to other SEALs within his team and the Marines he fought alongside and supported. Petty Officer Kyle selflessly exposed himself to enemy fire on a daily basis in order to engage enemy fighters. He repeatedly and aggressively placed himself in harm’s way in an attempt to engage and kill the enemy, as well as provide aid to wounded Marines.

Petty Officer Kyle’s selfless bravery, courage, leadership, and aggressiveness in close combat with the enemy were an inspiration the Marines around him. His calm demeanor, confidence, and natural leadership while under fire were in keeping with the finest tradition of Naval Special Warfare.

Intelligence Specialist Second Class Kyle’s initiative, maturity, and combat leadership reflected great credit upon himself and he is most deserving of the special recognition afforded by the JINSA Grateful Nation Award.

JINSA is committed to supporting the brave servicemen and women who sacrifice so much to defend America, and we do this in many ways including JINSA’s annual Deserving Soldiers Holiday Appeal, our visits to American military bases, and our programs such as the Generals and Admirals Program and the Military Academies Program.

Hyperbole and Reality in Assessing the State of the U.S.-Israeli Partnership

October 6, 2014

By Benjamin Runkle – JINSA Program Director 

On the surface, nothing seemed amiss.

848President Barack Obama began his remarks prior to Wednesday’s bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by reaffirming “the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and our ironclad commitment to making sure that Israel is secure.” Prime Minister Netanyahu responded by thanking the President “for the unflinching support you gave Israel during our difficult days and difficult summer we had” and expressed appreciation “for the continuous bond of friendship that is so strong between Israel and the United States.”

Yet despite the handshakes and statements of concern regarding mutual threats such as Iran’s nuclear program and the Islamic State, the media unsurprisingly portrayed a different narrative lurking just below the surface. The Associated Press coverage of the meeting began: “In a striking public rebuke, the Obama administration warned Israel” on the issue of settlements.” The New York Times noted that President Obama “has long had fraught relations with Mr. Netanyahu” and “did not invite him to stay for lunch after their meeting.” And Dana Milbank of The Washington Post described the two leaders as “old frenemies,” and that “The prime minister’s body language was that of a man suffering intestinal disorder.”

Regardless of both the Obama administration and Israeli’s best efforts to project amity and avoid headlines, the media was intent on noting the frosty relationship between the two leaders and emphasizing increased tensions between the United States and Israel stemming from this summer’s conflict in Gaza. (Milbank specifically noted this was Obama and Netanyahu’s first meeting “since this summer’s war in Gaza strained U.S.-Israeli relations.”

Although there is a great deal of truth to the first observation, suggestions that we may be on the verge of a fissure in the U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership is simply hyperbole that needs to be addressed.

In some cases, analysts depicting an impending split are projecting and engaging in wishful thinking rather than reporting on actual developments. An example of this school of thought comes from long time International Herald Tribune columnist William Pfaff, who recently wrote in the Australian journal American Review that “Nearly every intelligent witness to the nearly seven decades of Israel’s alliance with the United States and Western Europe now understands that the affair is about to be over.” This state of affairs is apparently self-evident enough that Pfaff declines to actually cite any of these esteemed observers. Instead, he launches upon an ahistorical, borderline anti-Semitic diatribe suggesting that Israel only became a state due to “the support of mobilized Jewish national communities” that skewed domestic politics in Europe and America. Pfaff places the blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict entirely on the Jews, and refers to the genocidal terrorist group Hamas as simply the “armed resistance in Gaza” making “demands for civil rights.” Consequently, Pfaff writes more prescriptively than descriptively that “It is time to terminate the Israeli-American alliance,” and he urges the Obama administration to impose a peace settlement upon Israel and to force advocates of a strong U.S.-Israeli partnership to register “as the agencies of foreign governments.”


Less easy to dismiss, and likely more representative of conventional wisdom among the American media elite, is former Clinton administration official and current editor of Foreign Policy David Rothkopf, who recently stated that the U.S.-Israel relationship has arrived “at a moment of reckoning.” During a recent interview of Martin Indyk, Rothkopf accused the Israeli government of sticking “its thumb in the eye of” the U.S.-Israeli partnership, and argues that “recent events may amount to nothing less than a strategic earthquake.”

Putting aside Pfaff’s abject ignorance of both American and Middle East history (American Christians have supported the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel since John Adams and Abraham Lincoln, and Arabs perpetrated large-scale communal violence against Jews in Palestine well before Israel became a state or occupied the West Bank and Gaza in the aftermath of the Six-Day War) and Rothkopf’s hyperventilating (his interview subject, Indyk, is far more circumspect and suggests an evolution rather than an “earthquake” in U.S.-Israeli relations), the facts simply do not support their assertions. First, American public opinion remains solidly supportive of Israel. A 2013 Gallup poll showed that 64% of Americans sympathize with Israel as opposed to 12% supporting Palestinians. In a July 2014 Pew Research Center poll, 40 percent of Americans blamed Hamas for this summer’s violence, as opposed to 19 percent who blamed Israel.

This public support for Israel is reflected in Congress. Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed resolutions supporting Israel’s right to self-defense, and condemning Hamas’s rocket attacks and denouncing the United Nations “biased” report. The Senate resolution (S. Res 526) was passed through a unanimous consent agreement, and the House passed the bill providing $225 million in emergency aid to Israel for its Iron Dome defense system 395-8. In other words, if the Israeli government stuck it thumb in America’s eye, or the U.S.-Israel “affair” is about to be over, this is news to the American people and their representatives in Washington, D.C. As Martin Indyk notes in his interview with Rothkopf, the fundamentals of the U.S.-Israel relationship are strong, and “in the security relationship and the intelligence relationship, those ties have developed over the years to the point that they are now deep and wide.”

To the extent that there is hostility between the United States and Israel, it exists almost exclusively at the Executive level. This should not be entirely surprising given concerns about then-Senator Obama’s choices in advisors (Robert Malley and Samantha Power) and friends (Rashid Khalidi), which raised questions about his attitudes towards Israel as a presidential candidate. This tension between the President and the Prime Minister was exacerbated by Secretary of State’s warning that Israel would become an apartheid state if it did not immediately cede to Palestinian demands, and the President’s inflammatory interview with Jeffrey Goldberg on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit this spring. During Operation Protective Edge, Israeli officials leaked Secretary Kerry’s proposal for a ceasefire that was perceived by not just Israeli cabinet officials but by the Israeli left – no less a stalwart of the Israeli Left than Ari Shavit wrote that Kerry’s proposal amounted to a “strategic terrorist attack”and the Palestinian Authority as rewarding Hamas’s initiation of the conflict. The State Department claimed this was a draft rather than a final proposal, and that the Israeli leak represented a significant breach of protocol. “It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. This may be true, but it is also a highly ironic complaint given that President Obama was caught disparaging Prime Minister Netanyahu to French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011, and that just the week before Kerry offered his ceasefire proposal he was similarly caught on a “hot mic” deriding Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza.

Either way, this is likely a temporary chill in the relationship, as no major party candidate for 2016 is likely to have the baggage on this issue that Barack Obama carried. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the demise of the U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership has been greatly exaggerated.

That being said, it would be a grave mistake for supporters of this partnership to allow complacency to set in. The same Pew survey cited above noted that 29 percent of 18 to 29-year olds blamed Israel for this summer’s violence, while 21 percent blamed Hamas. Similarly, in a July 2014 Gallup poll the same age group said by a two-to-one margin (51-25 percent) that Israel’s actions in Gaza were unjustified. Moreover, although polls show that evangelicals remain strongly pro-Israel, Mark Tooley recently wrote in The Weekly Standard that there is also anecdotal evidence that “Postmodern young evangelicals mostly see the two sides as competing, faraway peoples with equally valid narratives.” As Michael Oren has warned, “this is not just a matter of better PR or even enhanced education. Israel must treat the attitudinal and generational shifts . . . not as an image problem but as a strategic threat.”

The good news, perhaps, is that in both the Pew and Gallup polls, there was a clear correlation between a respondent’s level of education and their support for Israel, suggesting that the youth gap may be a problem of low information voters responding to simplistic media coverage of Operation Protective Edge that showed innumerable Palestinian casualties yet no Hamas combatants. And at the risk of appearing self-serving, this reinforces the important role organizations such as JINSA can play in securing the U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership over the next generation by filling in this information gap.

The Delicate Balance Behind the Defense Budget Debate

September 17, 2014

By Benjamin Runkle – JINSA Program Director 

defense-spendingEarlier this week I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a private dinner at another think tank featuring former Senator Jim Talent, who in March spoke about defense budget cuts and their impact on U.S. national security on a JINSA leadership conference call. Senator Talent served on the congressionally mandated, bipartisan National Defense Panel (NDP), whose recently released report argues that the Obama administration’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review lacks the funding needed for fulfilling global military missions and that the U.S. military faces “high risk” in the world unless changes are made. Senator Talent’s remarks were intelligent and timely, and clarified some of the paradoxes of the current defense budget debates that had been troubling me for some months. (To be clear, what follows is my understanding of the problem, not a summary of Senator Talent’s remarks. Hopefully he will do another briefing for JINSA soon).

It is clear that defense spending is in decline with potentially dangerous consequences for training and readiness. Anticipating a “peace dividend” following the success of the surge and the large scale withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, the Department of Defense identified $400 billion of cuts in planned spending in 2009 and 2010 plus an additional $78 billion in reductions spanning five years for the Fiscal Year 2012 budget plan. On top of those already planned cuts, the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 (a.k.a. “Sequestration”) added almost another $1 trillion in cuts to military spending spread out over a decade by imposing annual caps on the defense budget. Whereas the post-World War II average for defense spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) is 5.5, in 2014 it represents roughly 3.4 percent of GDP, and under the BCA’s spending caps would fall to below 2.5 percent of GDP, the lowest level of funding since 1940.

These cuts have real effects regarding the size and readiness of America’s military forces. As the NDP Review notes, rather than reaching the 346-ship goal articulated by the 1993 “Bottom Up Review” as the basis for America’s post-Cold War forward-presence, the Navy is on a budgetary path to 260 ships or less. Similarly, the Air Force now fields the smallest and oldest force of combat aircraft in its history, and under the BCA its Bomber, Fighter and Surveillance forces are programmed to drawdown to approximately 50 percent of the current inventory by 2019. In 2011, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned senators that “after ten years of these cuts, we would have the smallest ground force since 1940.” This prediction will likely come to pass sooner than Secretary Panetta foresaw, as the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget called for a reduction in the active-duty Army from 520,000 to 450,000 (a 13.4 percent reduction) by 2017, although in reality the number will dip to possibly below 400,000 if the sequestration-imposed budget cuts remain in place.

These deep cuts are not inherently dangerous in and of themselves. Fiscal hawks are correct when they note that prior to 9/11 DOD had an inflation-adjusted budget of $368 billion whereas today it is $560 billion, that the Army had 481,000 soldiers versus 522,000 today, and that our DOD is still larger than the next ten militaries combined. They point to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s 2010 declaration that “[America’s] national debt is our biggest national security threat” and argue that America can ride out the spending reductions outlined above without seeing its vital national interests jeopardized. Whether or not one agrees with this belief, it is important to acknowledge that it is a legitimate argument made by well-intentioned patriots, and should be distinguished from those who argue for reductions in defense spending because they believe the projection of American force is immoral.

The real problem with these reductions, and by extension the Fiscal hawks’ argument, is that they are disconnected to the strategic realities of the world as they stand today. Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, one of the leading defense budget experts in Washington, studied the QDR and reported that DOD would need an additional $200 billion to $300 billion above the current congressional spending caps to carry out the QDR’s intended defense program. “[DOD] has not budgeted enough to fully resource its strategy,” Harrison writes, nor has it revised its strategy to fit within the budget constraints set by Congress.” In other words, the Pentagon’s spending plan simply doesn’t match its long-term strategy for addressing rising threats from Iran, Russia, and China. Moreover, the QDR was drafted before the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)’s advances in Iraq forced President Obama to commit U.S. resources to a major new military campaign in the Middle East.

Even on its own terms, the urge to balance America’s budget on the back of the military seems short-sighted. As Robert Samuelson noted in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “The benefits of U.S. defense spending are often underappreciated because they flowed silently from wars not fought and global order maintained.” Indeed, the U.S. economy is dependent upon the rules-based international order that allows the global trade and investment to flourish, an order that is bolstered by America’s international leadership. Even if one opposes establishing this leadership through actual military intervention abroad, the NDP correctly observes that “The effectiveness of America’s other tools for global influence, such as diplomacy and economic engagement, are critically intertwined with and dependent upon the perceived strength, presence, and commitment of U.S. armed forces.” Yet the NDP (which included Democratic defense stalwarts such as former SecDef William Perry and President Obama’s Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy) concluded that the defense cutbacks outlined above “have prompted our current and potential allies and adversaries to question our commitment and resolve.” Thus, as important as reestablishing America’s financial solvency is, attempting to do so primarily through short-term cuts in defense spending is ultimately self-defeating, especially given that the longer Joint Force readiness is allowed to deteriorate, the more money will be required to restore it.

The current crisis in defense spending and military preparedness reflects several deeper problems with our national policymaking. As noted above, in a less hostile global environment Sequestration would perhaps be defensible, particularly if it allowed the President or the Secretary of Defense to reallocate funds within the DOD budget to better align resources with national security priorities while still remaining under the BCA’s topline caps. Instead, the BCA mandates inflexible across-the-board cuts, the assumption being these cuts would be so painful that leaders of both parties would be forced to negotiate a long-term solution to America’s chronic deficits, to include serious entitlements reform. In the 2014 federal budget, Social Security comprised 23 percent of expenditures, Medicare 14 percent, and defense spending 16.3 percent. Yet whereas Social Security and Medicare spending are increasing due to demographics, defense spending is shrinking. Unfortunately, the grand compromise envisioned at the time of the BCA’s passage seems even more remote given the current toxicity of DC’s political environment.

Moreover, as the Washington Post’s Charles Lane recently observed: “As the United States’ defense budget shrinks relative to its economy, more and more of it is destined to purposes that have little, or nothing, to do with deterring or, if necessary, winning wars in the here and now.” From 2001 to 2014 the DOD health budget more than doubled from $19 billion to $49.4 billion, with the Congressional Budget Office estimating this will rise to $64 billion in 2015, roughly 11 percent of the defense budget. Similarly, the $51 billion spent on military pensions in fiscal 2014 is projected to grow to $62 billion by 2024. In an era of constrained resources, Lane notes, every dollar spent on health and pension benefits “is a dollar we can’t spend training and equipping men and women to deal with the Islamic State, Putin, and other threats.”

These problems are not necessarily helped by the House and Senate defense authorization and appropriations committees, each of which approved bills blocking the Pentagon’s plans to save money by retiring some weapons systems or not to purchase others next year. To be sure, these committees are right to seek an increase in defense spending, and there are strong cases to be made for retaining systems such as the A-10 attack plane, refueling the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, or saving the Navy’s E/A-18G Growler electronic warfare fleet. Yet although a top-line increase in the defense budget is merited, Congress also needs to articulate the strategic justifications for such an increase in order to obtain buy-in from the American public. Simply blocking every proposed cut does little to build the consensus necessary to sustain robust defense spending, and may actually undermine it. Increasing defense spending without also articulating a broader strategic rationale prevents the badly needed prioritization between vital and secondary national interests and the subsequent determination of the force structures, weapons systems, and future technologies required to protect these interests. By simply saying “more, more, more”, the committees feed the perception that parochialism rather than strategy is driving their choices, thereby numbing the American public to the genuine threats we face and subsequent dangers stemming from unpreparedness. Although this approach may increase funding in the near-term, it also inadvertently strengthens the budget hawks’ long-term argument.

So what is the solution? I don’t claim the expertise to specify which weapons systems, force structure, or technological and investment priorities should be pursued. Instead, if I’m correct in the above diagnosis, I would suggest four practical steps that can be taken to begin to reverse the dangerous course upon which shrinking defense budgets may be leading us. First, there needs to be a serious bipartisan panel to determine – and differentiate between – America’s vital, important, and secondary interests, both on a global and regional scale. This is especially critical given that the Obama administration has not updated its National Security Strategy since 2010…before the Arab Spring, the violent disintegration of Syria and Iraq, the return of Russian revanchism, and when Osama bin Laden was still watching Pakistani soap operas in his Abbottabad compound. (In other words, a lot has changed since then). Although the NDP is correct to note that “national defense needs should drive national defense budgets, not the opposite,” it is critical that a hierarchy of interests be established in order to guide decisions on force structure, weapons procurement, technological investment, and to prevent the squandering of finite resources on secondary or tertiary interests. Indeed, even proposals for robust military spending such as the Heritage Foundation’s 2007 “Four Percent for Freedom” proposal – which subsequently served as the basis for Governor Mitt Romney’s 2012 pledge to set the “core defense spending…at a floor of 4 percent of GDP” – was explicit that “America must have the capacity to secure its vital national interests” (emphasis added), not all global interests.

Second, as the NDP concludes: “The costs of maintaining a quality All-Volunteer Force need to be reduced in order to avoid a reduction in force structure, readiness, and modernization, a decrease in benefits, or a comprised” force. Whether this comes through modest co-payment increases or means testing of working-age retirees who qualify for insurance through their post-military jobs, I don’t know. I trust that the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission will come up with better recommendations than I can. I would only propose that if it is not possible to enact a grandfather clause that protects the benefits of current retirees and servicemen and women, that any reform require a dollar-for-dollar savings match in civilian entitlement reform so that veterans do not bear the brunt of the badly need deficit reduction measures.

Finally, the NDP notes: “Current estimates show the Pentagon has roughly 20 percent excess infrastructure capacity.” Yet the House and Senate Armed Services committees both specifically refused to authorize another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round despite the substantial savings that could result. The NDP was correct to suggest a process for creating a consensus in favor of BRAC “as soon as possible,” which in addition to the savings would go a long ways toward enabling the defense authorization committees to shed the perception that they are more motivated by their districts’ narrow interests than by national strategy considerations, and thereby allow more political maneuvering room for the larger defense spending increases necessary to address current and future threats.

Although current events have inevitably drawn attention to the Obama administration’s decisions on when and how to employ military force, we should not lose sight of the critical decisions about defense spending that frame how these policy decisions are made. As Senator Talent said the other night, “defense policy is foreign policy.” Given the global upheaval that currently threaten U.S. national security, we cannot to wait to make the reforms necessary to properly train, equip, and prepare the U.S. military to address these threats.

Update on Israel’s Operation Protective Edge – August 6

August 6, 2014

Since the begining of Operation Protective Edge, 3,356 rockets have been fired at Israel. 578 were intercepted by Iron Dome and 475 landed within the Gaza Strip.

Israel has struck 4,762 terror sites struck across the Gaza Strip and eliminated 32 terror tunnels.

The photos below were taken by JINSA Program Director Ben Runkle while observing the terror tunnels with JINSA’s Generals and Admirals trip to Israel in May, 2014.

The interior of a terror tunnel.








Gaza tunnel exterior.

Terror tunnel exterior.

Hamas’ Strategy: Going Back to the Source

July 23, 2014
tags: ,

By Jonathan Ruhe – Associate Director of The Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy

Much of the press coverage of Operation Protective Edge has focused on the scramble for a ceasefire and a negotiated solution to this third war in five years between Israel and Hamas. Such reporting obscures a deeper, sober analysis of Hamas’ worldview and its ideological motivations for continuing this conflict – not necessarily on a tactical or operational level, but more fundamentally in terms of the endgame it envisions for its self-proclaimed broader struggle with Israel.

Like any organization, one of the clearest signposts for what Hamas stands for is its founding charter (click here for English-language version). Experts on the subject could pick apart the underpinnings and deeper meaning of this document, but much of its actual language is disturbingly straightforward and acerbic. More an enunciation of guiding principles than a detailed blueprint for political or military action, the 1988 charter sets a clear tone for the group’s objectives and methods. It argues for the non-negotiability of allowing a Jewish state to exist in Palestine, and that no true Muslim (according to Hamas’ definition) “can renounce [Palestine] or part of it, or abandon it or part of it” (Article 11). As part of this policy, Hamas may agree to armistices with its enemies – as it did most recently to end the November 2012 conflict – but no lasting peace is possible until Israel is eliminated.

In keeping with this uncompromising position, the charter spells out the need for armed conflict: “to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape for raising the banner of Jihad” (Article 15). Much of the rest of the charter follows this admonition for violence with incoherent but vitriolic anti-Semitism, saying “the Nazism of the Jews does not skip women and children,” and “the Zionist invasion … does not hesitate to take any road, or pursue all despicable and repulsive means to fulfill its desires.… Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims” (Articles 22, 28). This founding document even cites centuries-old canards like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and seeks to delegitimize Israel by claiming Jewish conspiracies drove the Balfour Declaration and World War II (as well as the French and Russian revolutions; Articles 22, 32).

These excerpts speak for themselves. By dehumanizing Jews and universalizing the supposed threat they pose, the charter condones Hamas’ indiscriminate attacks against Israel, including through terrorism. By making the conflict with Israel categorical and eschatological, it pardons Hamas’ willingness to use Gazan civilians as martyrs in this larger struggle. It has been argued that Hamas’ political and ideological works published since its charter show that the group has moderated these stances. Notably, none of these documents claim to renounce, modify or supersede the charter, unlike efforts by PLO leadership to strike parts of its constitution which were inconsistent with commitments made under the Oslo peace process. Moreover, a less malicious document, like Hamas’ 2006 electoral campaign platform, still directly echoes the charter’s goals and strategy, stating that “Palestine is Arab and Muslim land” and that armed struggle is legitimate. Looking at these primary-source materials may not explain everything, but it does provide a framework for understanding the enemy Israel faces yet again in Gaza.

What to Expect If You’re Expecting an Iran Deal

July 18, 2014

By Jonathan Ruhe – Associate Director of The Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy

This is the final countdown to the not-so-final deadline for the not-so-final deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Under the terms of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) implemented by Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members, plus Germany), Sunday is the end of the six-month interim period for negotiating a comprehensive settlement on Iran’s nuclear program. While it remains difficult to predict any actual outcome for this latest, and perhaps ultimate, round of talks, there are several important things to consider going into the weekend.

First, temper any expectations of what Iran can or will credibly offer to restrict its nuclear program as part of a final deal. Headlines in recent days mention a relaxation of Iran’s position on its enrichment capacity, but even this less extreme demand would essentially keep its existing nuclear infrastructure in place. This would leave Iran’s breakout timing – roughly 3-4 months – fundamentally untouched, even if it converted its low-enriched uranium to a less immediately-threatening form. Indeed, because this material can likely be reconverted in a matter of weeks, Iran is only offering to “freeze” something it can just as easily thaw. This is also far short of even the Obama Administration’s oft-cited benchmark for rolling back Iran’s program to at least a 6-12 month breakout timeframe. Moreover, this Iranian offer wouldn’t freeze the overall growth of its nuclear program. Centrifuges would keep spinning, as they have under JPA, expanding Iran’s stockpile in the process. In just the six months since the JPA was implemented, this has already expanded from approximately three to now four bombs’ worth of low-enriched uranium.

Overall, therefore, the ostensible compromise offered by Iran’s negotiating team is to keep the foundation of the nuclear program it expanded rapidly in the year prior to the JPA. However, even this offer came under fire publicly from hardliners in the regime’s clerical and military establishments. The administration of President Rouhani – including the Foreign Ministry team tasked with nuclear talks – is motivated at least in part by its mandate from the Iranian electorate to secure significant sanctions relief as quickly as possible. As recent comments by Supreme Leader Khamenei indicate, this incentive is not necessarily shared by the regime’s ultimate decision-makers. Even on the off chance this is merely a last-minute bargaining tactic, it cramps the ability of Iran’s negotiators to credibly agree to anything that remotely approaches an acceptable deal for the United States and its allies.

ZARIF-MEET-THE-PRESSSecond, any final deal would not actually be final. If an agreement somehow is reached by July 20, it would be historic mainly in the sense that it would recede rapidly into history. As agreed in the JPA, any of the mooted restrictions on Iran’s enrichment capabilities in the preceding paragraphs would be lifted surprisingly quickly (Iran is pressing for 3-7 years, the United States for at least 10). Furthermore, the United States would be removing sanctions over this period. Tehran would thus be primed to emerge from an arms control agreement stronger than when started, with little incentive to continue limiting its program. A brief but telling glimpse into Iran’s mindset on this issue was provided by Foreign Minister Zarif’s Meet the Press interview this week, when he called limits on Iran’s centrifuges “arbitrary restrictions.” In fact, Iran agreed to these restrictions as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), even though it now uses that treaty to justify its proclaimed “right” to enrich. Given that the JPA effectively sides with Iran on this point by saying it will be treated like any other NPT member once the comprehensive agreement expires, it is unsurprising to hear Iran suggest it will vastly expand its enrichment program, either under a final deal or beyond it.

Third, the July 20 deadline is not final either. The JPA allows for the six-month interim period to be renewed by mutual agreement, but apparently the specifics are subject to debate or confusion. The wording of the JPA itself seems to imply the interim deal would have to be renewed tout suite, potentially dragging negotiations into January 2015 while sanctions remain weakened and Iran continues producing low-enriched uranium. However, U.S. State Department officials have stated a new interim framework could be part of renewal discussions, and other officials recently said the deadline could be postponed for periods much less than six months. In effect, there might need to be new negotiations about having further negotiations.

These are not just hermeneutics. As JINSA’s Gemunder Center Iran Task Force argued in reports this past January and May, the existing interim framework is not making an acceptable final deal more likely to be achieved. A corollary is that simply renewing it would compound the disadvantages accruing to the United States. Unless the United States could somehow negotiate a new interim agreement that evaporates instead of freezes key parts of Iran’s nuclear program – a prospect made less likely by the existing interim agreement – any significant extension of the current framework thus should be viewed as cause for concern rather than a sign of progress.

Update on Israel’s Operation Protective Edge – July 15

July 15, 2014

Hamas fired 125 rockets at Israel today. 50 of them were fired while the IDF suspended strikes for six hours.

Of the total rockets fired by Hamas since the start of Operation Protective Edge, 953 of those rockets hit Israel and approximately 213 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The IDF has targeted over 1682 terror targets.

Here is the Iron Dome missile defense system in action:

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