The five-dimensional chess game
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The five-dimensional chess game

Dr. Eric Mandel to explore geopolitics and Israel at two federation talks

Dr. Eric Mandel
Dr. Eric Mandel

The Middle East “is an area of five-dimensional chess, where today’s enemy is your friend and tomorrow that enemy is an enemy,” Dr. Eric R. Mandel said. “The one constant is Israel as America’s secure ally for our interests.”

For the past 39 years, this Manhattan ophthalmologist has divided his time between practicing medicine and educating people about the complex strategic region where the Jewish state is sandwiched among hostile nations.

As founder and director of the Middle East Political Information Network — MEPIN — Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress about the ever-changing geopolitical situation in that part of the world. He is senior security editor of the Jerusalem Report biweekly newsmagazine and regularly writes op eds for the Jerusalem Post.

On March 10 and April 7, Dr. Mandel will be the featured speaker in the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Virtual FEDTalks series.

The topics he plans to present aim to answer these burning questions and more:

• Is this the year Israel will need to strike Iran preemptively?

• Will there be a war with Hezbollah or Hamas?

• Why is antisemitism on the rise from the right, left, and Islam?

• Does the U.S. still have national security interests in the Middle East?

• What does international law really say about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

• How is China interfering in Israeli-American relations?

Before the two-part talk, Dr. Mandel gave us a preview of some of the issues he will address.

Getting back to the chess analogy, he said that one reason the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement resonates with college students is because “it’s cool to have a victim — the Palestinians — and a victimizer — Israel — and not try to understand the five-dimensional chess game. Facts in context are irrelevant.”

If facts are irrelevant, opinions are dangerous.

“We’re dealing in a world where it’s okay to censor points of view that will affect my ‘safe space,’” Dr. Mandel said. “There is no respect for other opinions. There are fewer and fewer open minds, because anybody who has a different point of view is considered immoral — and you don’t have to listen to someone who is immoral.”

Dr. Mandel has had several campus speaking engagements canceled because organizers were afraid of the consequences of being perceived as supporters of a point of view contrary to that of Students for Justice in Palestine.

The latter organization, Dr. Mandel said, is a tentacle of the Palestinian-run BDS movement that is mainstreaming antisemitism in the guise of anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism.

“Too many people think BDS is a peaceful expression against Israel’s occupation of the disputed territories.,” Dr. Mandel said. “But the movement’s co-founder, Omar Barghouti, has said BDS opposes a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.

“BDS is not about two states for two people or going back to the 1967 borders. Its agenda is to destroy Israel. People in the BDS movement are starting to use the reference point of 1948, not 1967, to say that Israel is an illegitimate country and shouldn’t exist. That is antisemitism, according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition.”

Moreover, college students consider the Palestinians “people of color” while Jews are considered white. That’s ignoring the reality that the majority of Israeli Jews are people of color from Middle Eastern, North African, and Ethiopian heritages.

“Although it’s not considered okay to attack individual Jews, attacking the collective Jew is ‘good’ because it fits with what our college students think: that Israel is an apartheid, colonial, racist, oppressing country, which is given validity not only by multiple generations of professors on American university campuses but now also by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch,” Dr. Mandel said.

Outside of college campuses, last May’s Gallup poll indicates that Americans’ overall impression of Israel remains largely positive, with 85 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of Democrats viewing Israel favorably. But Dr. Mandel notes an increasing trend toward isolationist views from across the spectrum.

“On the right and the left, what you hear today is that we’re war-weary, that we have no interest in the Middle East. But we have plenty of interests there,” he said.

“The adversaries America has in the region look at American withdrawal as voids to take advantage of. American weakness in the Middle East invites destabilization. When we withdrew from Afghanistan, the message to the world was ‘America is weak.’ And there is a direct connection from that to what’s happening today.

“When President Putin saw that we walked away from Afghanistan with our tail between our legs, he knew he could be aggressive with Ukraine. President Xi in China is looking at the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Western response to Ukraine and he’s thinking about Taiwan. Just as Putin thinks Ukraine is his, Xi thinks Taiwan is his. It all starts from the Middle East.”

Dr. Mandel said that the United States must remain involved in the region for myriad reasons. “The number one thing America should do is limit Iranian expansionism, if for no other reason than for the old-time oil and gas interests which stabilize the world’s economy. If Iran influences the world’s energy — and we’re not becoming fossil-fuel independent for decades and decades — then this will be a very dangerous place.

“As the policeman of the world, America must keep three chokepoints open: the Straits of Hormuz, where 40 percent of the world’s fuel goes through; Bab-el-Mandeb, which goes up toward the Suez Canal; and the Suez Canal itself. By America being there, the world works better.”

It is in America’s security interests not to let Iraq and Syria become Iranian proxies,” Dr. Mandel said. “Iran already controls a lot of Iraq, as well as Yemen and multiple Arab capitals. Their next eye is on Jordan.”

Dr. Mandel said that the United States must remain committed to defeating radical Sunni Islamism and jihadism — not just ISIS but also the Muslim Brotherhood and its branches, the most prominent being in Turkey — and to remain engaged with India and Pakistan, where tensions reverberate across the region.

“We want to minimize our troops on the ground in the Middle East, but if we withdraw our small presence in Syria and Iraq, which gives us disproportionate leverage, it sends the wrong message and increases the chance of regional war,” he said.

“We abdicated to Russian influence in the Middle East and that wasn’t in our interests. Americans in the Middle East protect air and sea access and keep stability. Our small presence there decreases the risk of countries going nuclear, gaining biological and chemical weapons, and falling into non-state actors’ hands. If we’re not there, we don’t have the intelligence to understand what’s going on.”

Dr. Mandel emphasized that Israel shares its top-notch intelligence with the United States, and that this is only one way in which the America-Israel relationship is a two-way street. “America could not create another ally in the region even close to what it gets from Israel,” he said. “Israel is close to vital sea lanes and has supported U.S. operations; the American Sixth Fleet is docked in Haifa Port. Israeli research and development has been incredible militarily, helping to protect American soldiers, and American soldiers train in Israel to learn best methods.

“Israel is incredibly appreciative of the billions of U.S. dollars over time that have helped Israel defend itself and has never asked for American troops to defend Israel,” he continued. “All they want is the ability to defend themselves.”

This understanding explains why Gulf states became interested in rapprochement, he added. “Israel is a reliable, secure ally that people want to come to even if they don’t share its values — and no country in the Middle East shares Israel’s values of democracy and liberalism.”

Having said all that, could Israel’s growing relationship with China potentially drive a major wedge between the U.S. and Israel?

“Yes,” Dr. Mandel said.

“Even in the Trump administration, Secretary of State Pompeo was so worried that the Chinese have a license to control Haifa Port that he was thinking about not allowing the Sixth Fleet to be there. So the United States and Israel could be on a collision course over China because America views China as a major threat and wants to be binary: choose us or choose China. Of course, Israel will choose America, but it’s not so easy. Israel looks at a long-term horizon: Will America still be a great friend, or will they need China as a great friend 50 years from now? You don’t want to burn bridges.”

The saying is that politics makes strange bedfellows, and that indeed is the case here.

“Israel worries that the Chinese are in bed now with the Iranians,” Dr. Mandel said, pointing to China’s agreement to invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil to fuel its growing economy.

“But China is also in bed with Israel economically,” he continued. “Chinese companies, owned by the government, are involved in building Israeli desalination plants and they’re bidding on building Tel Aviv’s light rail. There’s also joint Israeli-Chinese research. The United States is worried about what China can get from Israel — especially about advanced cyber technology ending up in Chinese hands — and Israel is worried about what China can get and give to Iran. Meanwhile, America is about to get into bed with Iran through the renewed JCPOA,” or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action concerning Iran’s nuclear capabilities. “Israel can’t afford to lose its best friend but also wants its markets to stay open and independent.”

Dr. Mandel often is asked why he devotes so much time to MEPIN, at the expense of his medical career.

“I have no family in Israel,” he said. “I don’t have relatives who are Holocaust survivors. Why am I doing this? God forbid that something happens to Israel. I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I did everything possible to save the Jewish homeland and to have been there for them. Because there are seven million Jews in the crosshairs of people who want them dead.

“As an American, it’s very easy to be pro-Israel because to my mind, American and Israeli security interests are coincident 95 percent of the time. A strong Israel is incredibly important for America. As a Jewish American, I don’t want to be like the Jews of the 1930s and early 1940s who didn’t have a voice, or didn’t think they had a voice, to defend Jews in harm’s way.”

Dr. Mandel asserts that “unless you’re Orthodox in America, your kids are going to assimilate and disappear unless they are Zionists. Zionism is the one thing that can continue making people being proud of being Jewish beyond religion.”


What: Virtual FEDTalks: An insider’s analysis of the Middle East Israel with Dr. Eric R. Mandel

When: Part 1: Thursday, March 10, 7:30 p.m.; Part 2: Thursday, April 7, 7:30 p.m.

How to register and receive the Zoom link: jfnnj.org/VirtualEvents or (201) 820-3955

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