Ex-deputy NSC head: Israelis unaware of collapse in support among Dems

If Sanders wins the election, “I would advise for everyone to pray,” Chuck Freilich said.

Chuck Freilich at the Dan Boutique Hotel on December 5 (photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
Chuck Freilich at the Dan Boutique Hotel on December 5
(photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
From Iran, to Syria to the Palestinians, if a Democrat wins the US presidency, especially Bernie Sanders, Israel will need to make major policy adjustments, former deputy National Security Council head Chuck Freilich told The Jerusalem Post.
Under Sanders, “I would advise for everyone to pray,” he said, adding that confronting a nuclear Iran with Sanders in the White House “is a horror.”
But Freilich, who advocates many moderate national security ideas, said Sanders in some ways is a symptom of issues that have festered much longer.
If in November a Democrat wins the presidency, “whether [Joe] Biden or Sanders, there is a critical role of repairing to be done,” he said.
“I don’t think the people of Israel are fully aware of the collapse of support – the absolute free fall in support for Israel especially among younger people in the Democratic party – and in the Jewish community, which votes in the high 70% range for Democrats,” Freilich said.
“There is pent up fury with decades of frustration over the policy regarding Palestinians in the West Bank,” which was exacerbated by the direct confrontation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration over Iran and by Netanyahu’s cozying up to the Trump administration, he said.
“There are also tectonic changes in American demographics, which have nothing to do with Israel,”Freilich said. “The fastest-growing groups are Latinos and the religiously unidentified. Latinos are not interested in Israel,” and if people who are more religious tend to support Israel, people who are less tend not to.
Asked if the break between Israel and segments of the Democratic Party is irreparable, he said: “It’s getting there. If [Benny] Gantz is prime minister, then at a bare minimum, a change in tone could have an effect in ameliorating things.”
“A changed policy or a perception of a changed policy on the Palestinian issue” might be able to repair relations, since “anger over the Iran issue, they [Democrats] can get over. They can’t get over the Palestinian issue,” he added.
Asked whether Gantz’s positions on the Palestinians are much different than Netanyahu’s, being that he announced support for annexing the Jordan Valley, Freilich said: “Gantz is willing to annex the Jordan Valley only with an international agreement and with Arab support. So there won’t be an agreement for this.”
“I don’t think there is a doubt that Gantz is a firm believer in two states,” he said. “I think that’s what he wants to do, subject to coalition constraints.”
“We need to make it at least look like we want a two-state negotiation, and if it does not succeed, to make it look like the Palestinians are to blame” by making a sincere effort in the negotiations, Freilich said.
Regarding Iran, he said: “If it’s Sanders, we need to make sure there is an understanding. It will be extraordinarily hard to work with him on a variety of levels. But there is no going back to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. Whatever one thinks of Trump’s policy on Iran, he did gain leverage, and to squander that would be silly.’
Moreover, “Israel must do everything possible to restore an agreement with the US about how to deal with Iran,” he added.
Asked whether he would endorse a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities if Sanders were elected in November until he took office in January, while Iran rushes to a breakout toward a nuclear weapon, Freilich said: “I don’t believe in preemptively leaping ahead on an issue like that. It’s not the way a responsible country behaves” in the presidential transition period.
“The first thing you can do is start sending feelers,” he said. “You reach out to the guy and say, ‘Let’s try to put the ill will of the past behind us.’”
“If Netanyahu is still prime minister, he can say, ‘I’m not as bad as you think,’ and offer something to prove it… If it’s Gantz, he can say, ‘I am a different guy. Put your predispositions aside because they aren’t true,’” he said.
“If and when Iran is about to literally cross the threshold… and there is no alternative but to strike… then we do it, even though we gain very little, maybe a little bit of time… if it is absolutely clear that it is now or never. But not short of that,” Freilich said.
There are unique concerns about Sanders, he said, if “we have a president coming in who is deeply critical of Israel, whose commitment to Israel is questionable. There has been no one in the last 50 years whose basic support we doubted. But he has surrounded himself by pro-Palestinian advisers.”
Asked whether Sanders freeze military aid if the IDF acted in Syria or Gaza in ways that he did not approve, Freilich said: “It’s been a while since an administration made payment contingent on how Israel behaved… We would need to use whatever influence we have to prevent that. But considering America is paramount, short of an existential threat, we don’t cross the US. So we might need to cut down or stop military action in Syria for a period of time.”
In contrast, Biden is “a moderate and a realist… he will understand we don’t squander leverage with Iran and cannot just go back to the JCPOA, which is also getting closer to expiring,” he said.
Also, Biden “would understand what we do in the North. But he would exert pressure on the Palestinian front,” similarly to former president Barack Obama, Freilich said.