Former US ambassador: Israel would be ‘making itself an international outlaw’ with West Bank annexation

Former US ambassador: Israel would be 'making itself an international outlaw' with West Bank annexation

The World staff

Ariel Oseran

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A general view picture shows a section of Itamar, a Jewish settlement, in the foreground as Nablus is seen in the background, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 15, 2020.


Ronen Zvulun/Reuters


Israel continues to push forward with plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Israel has occupied the territory on the west bank of the River Jordan since 1967. Decades of talks between Israelis and Palestinians have left the territory’s status unresolved.  

The annexation process could start as soon as next week, despite widespread condemnation from Palestinians, US-Arab allies and numerous foreign governments. But the Israeli government’s plan is bolstered by the Trump Administration’s peace plan released earlier this year, which indicates that the United States would be supportive of annexation.

At a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday, Secretary-General António Guterres called on Israel to abandon its plans, calling this “a watershed moment.”

“If implemented, annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-state solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations,” said Guterres.

Related: Palestinian analyst says Trump’s Middle East peace plan is a ‘scam’

Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel and US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, is currently a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He spoke with The World to discuss the urgency behind Israel’s push for annexation.

Marco Werman: What exactly is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considering here?

Martin Indyk: Starting on July 1, according to the government agreement that he signed with his partner, alternate prime minister Benny Gantz, he can bring to the cabinet a decision on annexation. [He] doesn’t have to do it on July 1, but that opens the door to him doing it. Under the Trump plan, Israel would be able to annex 30% of the West Bank, which would include all of the Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley. That has never been proposed in any peace plan up till now.

Related: Israeli plans for annexation weigh heavily on Jordan Valley residents 

The territory that Israel intends to annex is mainly in areas with Jewish settlements. But these areas also include Palestinian populations, so what would be their legal status?

It’s unclear. It hasn’t been specified as to what would happen to them. If he does the full annexation, then he would absorb something like 10,000 Palestinians who would be in those areas. There’s talk about him doing a partial annexation, which could be all of the 131 settlements, but not the Jordan Valley.

Why now? What’s the rush?

The rush is determined by the fact that there’s an election in the United States. And if Israel goes ahead, Trump has indicated that he would recognize that annexation. The fear is that Trump will no longer be president after November and [former] Vice President [Joe] Biden [the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate] has already made it clear that not only would he not recognize it, but he might well withdraw the recognition.

Related: Israel’s Arab citizens contemplate their future under the Trump peace plan

If Israel does end up going ahead with its annexation, what would be the international response?

Well, we’ve already heard from some European states, in particular British, French and Germans, that there will be consequences. They’re not saying sanctions, but they are indicating that there will be consequences. The international community could, of course, try to pass resolutions in the Security Council. But as long as the United States is opposed to that, it would exercise its veto and protect Israel. It could go to the UN General Assembly, that’s a much more difficult process. Overall, though, Israel will be in effect, making itself an international outlaw.

Related: Jared Kushner’s peace plan that nobody loves 

When you scrape away all the diplomacy, what is the American interest here? I mean, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday it was up to Israel to decide, even though it was the Trump plan that set things in motion. Why should this matter to Americans?

Secretary of State Pompeo’s statement is, I think, a trick designed to suggest that the onus is on Israel when this wouldn’t be happening if the United States wasn’t prepared to green light it, and indeed under the agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz, they can’t go ahead unless the United States green lights it. So it will very much be a Trump decision, not just an Israeli decision. Donald Trump is doing Israel no favor by encouraging it to go down this path, the path of annexation rather than separation from the Palestinians.

You were deeply involved in pursuing the two-state solution and keeping it alive personally. How would you feel about annexation and essentially the end of the two state solution?

After the last negotiations that I was responsible for under President [Barack] Obama, I could say that there was no way that a two-state solution is going to come about in my lifetime. So I’ve kind of come to terms with that. But I have felt very strongly that it’s important, as I say, for Israel’s future, that the option of a two-state solution be kept alive. For me, that is not just a sad moment, it’s a tragic moment. Tragic for the Palestinians as well.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Iran-Israel cyberattacks threaten unofficial rules of engagement

Iran-Israel cyberattacks threaten unofficial rules of engagement

Ariel Oseran

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Listen to the story.

Commodities containers are seen at Shahid Rajaee harbor at Bandar Abbas port, Iran, Aug. 22, 2019.


Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency/Reuters


In late April, workers at a water pumping station in central Israel noticed a warning alert on their computer screens. Then, water pumps started to malfunction, turning off and on without control.  

It took a few hours to figure out what was wrong: The system that regulates the water at the facility had been hacked. According to reports, Iran was behind the attack and used American servers to carry it out.

As the eyes of the world are set on COVID-19 and global outrage over police brutality, in the shadows, Iran and Israel continue to fight — allegedly using cyberweapons.

Related: Israeli plans for annexation weigh heavily on Jordan Valley residents

The cyber breach at the water pumping station was apparently fixed before any real damage was done. Israeli officials have not gone on the record with what they know, and Iran denies it was responsible for the attack. 

But, according to a story in the Financial Times, the goal was to boost the chlorine levels in the water supplied to Israeli homes. That could have made hundreds, if not thousands of people sick. 

“What the Iranians did is, in a way, crossing international red lines,” said Ya’akov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser. He says that targeting critical civilian infrastructure, like a water station, was unprecedented for Iran.

“For them, civilian targets are legitimate,” said Amidror. “The Iranians did it in the past by proxies, using Hezbollah, Hamas. But here, it’s the state directly. In a way, you know, it’s terrorism run by a state.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has accused Iran of conducting failed cyberattacks in the past. “Iran attacks Israel on a daily basis,” Netanyahu said at a cybersecurity conference last year. “We monitor these attacks, we see these attacks and we thwart these attacks. All the time. We’re not oblivious to these threats, they don’t impress us. Because we know what our power is, both in defense and in offense,” he said. 

Related: A cyberattack could wreak destruction comparable to a nuclear weapon

Military experts consider cyberspace to be the fourth significant battleground after land, air and sea. But the line that distinguishes military and civilian targets is easily blurred.

Israel’s response to the water station attack came on May 9, when operations at the Iranian port of Shahid Rajaee were disrupted. According to news reports, Israel hacked the facility’s computer system. 

Traffic jams and hold-ups with shipping containers stalled activity at the port for days. This was a serious disruption for a country that is already suffering from crippling economic sanctions as well as the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The Iranians have downplayed the damage and some Iranian outlets have also said that there has been no such attack,” said Meir Javedanfar, a Middle East analyst based in Tel Aviv. He was born in Iran, but moved to Israel in 2004.

Javedanfar says this latest round of cyber tit-for-tat between the two regional rivals has been escalating for over a decade. “Especially starting over the Iranian nuclear program, where allegedly Israel and the United States attacked Iran’s nuclear installation in [the Iranian city of] Natanz with the ‘Stuxnet’ virus,” Javedanfar explained.

Stuxnet is a malicious computer worm discovered in 2010, considered to be one of the world’s first sophisticated cyberweapons ever to be used between countries. 

Related: The history of US-Iran relations: A timeline

Adam Meyers, senior vice president of intelligence at cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, said the discovery of Stuxnet was a watershed moment for Iran. “This is something that awoke the Iranian thinking around cyber and the capabilities of what you could do with a cyber operation.”

Meyers says Iran has recently stepped up cyberattacks against the West, beyond Israel. He notes that in 2013, authorities in Rye, New York, detected an attempt by Iranian hackers to take control over a dam. That attack failed because the dam was under repair and offline.

“We don’t always know what their intention is if it gets stopped, right?” said Meyers. “So the Rye [dam], in New York, example, they had conducted some targeting of this dam, and that may have been opportunistic, it may have been very targeted. It’s hard to say for certain, but because it was stopped, we don’t know necessarily what the outcome would have been.”

Amidror says moves to target civilian infrastructure is dangerous for the future of cyberwarfare.

“The decision to cross the line was a big mistake by the Iranians,” he said. “From now on it’s an open question how Israel will retaliate.”