DC think tank trying to sway views on Israel, one cadet at a time
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DC think tank trying to sway views on Israel, one cadet at a time

Under new leadership, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) pledges to deepen US and Israel military ties

A West Point cadet visiting Israel goes toe-to-toe with a young Israeli officer (courtesy: JINSA)
A West Point cadet visiting Israel goes toe-to-toe with a young Israeli officer (courtesy: JINSA)

If a defense-minded neoconservative Republican at the helm of a Washington, DC think tank dedicated to US national security policy is supposed to be surly and serious, Larry Greenfield did not get the message. The self-described “happy warrior” and newly-installed executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, also known as JINSA, is easy-going, amicable, and at pains to stress his commitment to ensuring that JINSA lives up to its billing as a bipartisan institution.

“I’m a positive person. Maybe it’s my California background – I’ve spent most of my life in the Los Angeles area and have only been in the Beltway a few months,” says Greenfield, who describes JINSA as the “address for American national security policy in the Jewish community.”

JINSA Executive Director Larry Greenfield, the 'Happy Warrior' (courtesy: JINSA)

But while the institution strives for bipartisanship, its director may not be. Greenfield calls himself a “disciple of Ronald Reagan,” who’s broad definition of national security runs the gamut from cyber- and space-security to border and homeland security, and confident American leadership in a dangerous world.

“Free people need defense, and only strength will assure peace,” he said, echoing a pillar of Reagan’s own world view.

In the crowded universe of Washington think tanks – there are more than a thousand of them – JINSA is a plucky institution that strives to punch above its weight. Despite a staff numbering in the single digits, the organization produces weekly and monthly policy reports, a bi-annual scholarly journal, and is perhaps best known for cementing ties between US and Israeli military and law enforcement officials by organizing frequent trips to the Holy Land, six of which are scheduled for 2012.

‘Through this exploration of Israel and her borders, the day-to-day conflict between Israel, its neighbors, and the Palestinians became real’ -US Military Academy cadet Jana (last name withheld)

Each year, JINSA brings retired America generals and admirals to Israel for meetings with Israeli military and political leaders. But promising American service members at the beginning of their military careers, too, are recruited by the organization to meet with their Israeli counterparts.

This year, 66 U.S. cadets and midshipmen will visit the Jewish state in order to learn about the American-Israeli military alliance and regional issues.

“Through this exploration of Israel and her borders, the day-to-day conflict between Israel, its neighbors, and the Palestinians became real,” said US Military Academy cadet Jana (last name withheld), who visited Israel with JINSA in 2011 and plans to graduate from West Point this year. “The trip opened my eyes and reminded me that as an individual and a future military officer, it is extremely important that I take the time to learn both sides before I make a final judgment on decisions that I will be forced to make in my career.”

Zac, a US Air Force Academy cadet said he was “astounded” by Israel’s diversity.

“During one briefing in particular at an air force base, the nine Israelis who sat on a single panel came from Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia, Poland, Australia, England, America, and Russia,” he said.

Another West Point cadet, Barrett, came away impressed and “baffled by the strength and modern technology of the IDF.”

A midshipman and his Israeli counterpart (courtesy: JINSA)

“I was also baffled by the idea that every Israeli citizen between the ages of 18 and 21 must serve in the armed forces. Quite possibly the most honorable part of my Israeli experience was the chance to personally exchange military experiences with IDF officers. During our week stay in Jerusalem I was able to converse with several Lieutenants from all branches and gain their perspective on the requirement to serve their country in a time of crisis.

“This unique experience, known as the ‘Mifgash,’ taught me one of the most important lessons in life — that one should cherish and be thankful for every day, that the foundation of the state remain intact because its younger generation is willing to serve, fight, and defend it.”

This month, JINSA announced the hiring of one of the highest ranking Jewish Americans to have worn the US military uniform. Retired Lt. Gen. David Fridovich, the former deputy commander of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), will be the organization’s Director of Defense and Strategies.

‘This unique experience, known as the “Mifgash,” taught me one of the most important lessons in life — that one should cherish and be thankful for every day, that the foundation of the state remain intact because its younger generation is willing to serve, fight, and defend it’

–US Military Academy cadet Barrett

Fridovich, or “Frido,” joins the think tank following the departure of several  high-profile neoconservative board members earlier this year. To protest the termination of the group’s head of security policy studies, Shoshana Bryen, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former top Pentagon official Richard Perle, and conservative scholar Michael Ledeen left JINSA’s board.

Greenfield says the institutional turmoil is a thing of the past and notes that JINSA has added seven new military leaders to its board and has more programs scheduled this year than ever before.

“Our staff is comprised of an experienced team of supporters of the US and the special strategic relationship we maintain with Israel. Let no one doubt our dedication and will to be effective,” he says.

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