The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) is a right-wing, "pro-Israel" advocacy organization that promotes "strategic cooperation" between the United States and Israel on everything from missile defense and mutual security strategies to terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the Iranian nuclear enrichment program. Described by observers as a core think tank of the so-called "Israel Lobby," JINSA has claimed to be "the most influential group on the issue of U.S.-Israel military relations."
JINSA was founded in the mid-1970s as a study group aimed at "learning the lessons" of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, including how to ensure that the United States backs Israel in the event of future conflicts. In the late 1970s, the group evolved into a "defense education group" closely connected to military-industrial elites. Today, the group operates as a 501(c)(3) organization that receives most of its funding through private donations, including from a membership base that it once claimed to number 17,000.
According to JINSA's website, the group's mission is "to advocate on behalf of a strong U.S. military, a robust national security policy, and a strong U.S. security relationship with Israel and other like-minded democracies."JINSA aims to "engage the American defense community about the role Israel can and does play in securing Western democratic interests in the Middle East" and to "improve awareness in the general public, as well as in the Jewish community of the importance of a strong American defense capability."
JINSA has been compared to the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), a Cold War-era letterhead group that in the 1970s championed rolling back détente and implementing a confrontational anti-Soviet agenda. Wrote journalist Jason Vest: "Just as the right-wing defense intellectuals made CPD a cornerstone of a shadow defense establishment during the Carter administration, so, too, did the right during the Clinton years, in part through two organizations: the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Center for Security Policy (CSP). … Industrious and persistent, they've managed to weave a number of issues—support for national missile defense, opposition to arms control treaties, championing of wasteful weapons systems, arms aid to Turkey, and American unilateralism in general—into a hard line, with support for the Israeli right at its core."
JINSA's CEO is Michael Makovsky, a former foreign policy director at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a strident Middle East hawk. The group's president is David Justman; Michael Nachmann serves as its chairman; and Morris Amitay serves as vice-chairman. Past principals include the late Norman Hascoe, a financier and former engineer who was once included on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, as well as the late Mark Broxmeyer, a New York-based real estate mogul.
JINSA's board of advisers is led by David Steinmann, the former head of the right-wing William Rosenwald Family Fund. The board includes a passel of hawkish and neoconservative foreign policy elites, including Anne Bayefsky, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, former ambassador John Bolton, leading neoconservative writer Joshua Muravchik, and Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
JINSA's advisory board has hosted a number of other well-known hawks over the years. In January 2012, the Jewish daily Forward reported that the firing of former executive director Shoshana Bryen, a longstanding activist in right-wing "pro-Israel" community, helped prompt "several conservative icons to quit the group's advisory board in protest," including James Woolsey, Michael Ledeen, and Richard Perle. Although there was no hint of ideological disputes within the group's top ranks, the paper suggested that JINSA was struggling to maintain its unique position within a crowded beltway neoconservative establishment. "The recent crisis," it added, "is a result of a messy transformation of power in the group's top ranks and a struggle to maintain relevance and funding at a time of shrinking budgets and growing competition from other Jewish causes."
JINSA's core programs are designed to foster exchanges among U.S. and Israeli military leaders, cadets, and law enforcement officials. The group also issues policy reports, publishes opinion pieces, and has housed a number of journals over the years.
One initiative launched under Makovsky's leadership has been JINSA's Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy, a hawkish policy group convened by JINSA to perform "innovative research and advocacy on vital U.S. defense, strategic and general national security issues." Among the group's senior advisers are former Dick Cheney aide John Hannah and former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker.
As of 2014, the Gemunder Center's lone task force was aimed at Iran. Chaired by former PNAC hawks Eric Edelman and Dennis Ross, the group's members also included former Rep. Chris Carney, neoconservative academic Eliot Cohen, Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, Hannah, Rademaker, and U.S. News & World Report editor Mort Zuckerman, among others. The task force has issued a number of hawkish policy papers criticizing international efforts to engage Iran diplomatically, urging Washington to increase sanctions and threats of military action against Iran, and calling on the United States to support Israel in the event that it decides to attack Iran unilaterally.
As negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers (the five UN Security Council members plus Germany) ramped up in late 2013, the Gemunder Center demanded that any potential deal preclude Iran from having a domestic enrichment capability—a nonstarter from Tehran's perspective—and called on U.S. negotiators to "make clear the alternatives to an acceptable deal are enhanced sanctions that could collapse Iran's economy and/or a U.S. military strike." The authors added that "they must reiterate that the United States will always be supportive of the fundamental right of Israel and our other regional allies to ensure their self-defense." In another paper, the group concluded, "If negotiations ultimately fail to yield results, even after such pressure has been applied, U.S. policymakers must be prepared for military action and to consider regime change."
Negotiators reached an interim agreement in early 2014 that exchanged a token amount of sanctions relief for limitations on (but not a halt to) Iranian nuclear enrichment while talks on a final agreement were underway. Claiming that the deal "makes it possible for Iran to progress toward undetectable nuclear weapons capability without even violating the agreement," the Gemunder panel argued, "The United States should move immediately to impose new sanctions and consider even tougher actions against Iran if no acceptable final is agreement is in place 180 days after the JPA's formal implementation on January 20. At that time, the United States should do nothing that would impinge upon Israel's ability to decide what actions it must take at that time, and indeed should support Israel if it takes military action." In subsequent remarks quoted by the Washington Free Beacon, Makovsky held out hope for an Israeli strike, explaining, "The reason why we focus on the Israeli government is because that is the last remaining stick right now."
In a 2014 Wall Street Journal op-ed coauthored with Gemunder panelist David Deptula, Makovsky argued that if the administration wouldn't agree to pass new sanctions on Iran, it should instead arm Israel with B-52 bombers and "bunker buster" bombs capable of destroying underground facilities like the Iranian enrichment plant at Fordow. "Iranian planners," they wrote, "might hope that [Israel's existing bunker buster arsenal] will prove insufficient to do major damage. The U.S. should remove such doubt by providing Israel with the capability to reach and destroy Iran's most deeply buried nuclear sites." A defense policy expert quoted by Jewish Week called the idea "absurd," arguing that the United States had already sent Israel thousands of bunker-busting bombs. "This is purely an attack on Obama as Mr.-Spineless-'Cause-He-Won't-Bomb-Iran," he opined. "It's right-wing, pro-Israel Americans taunting Obama, saying, 'If you're not going to use those, let Netanyahu borrow them.'"
A July 2014 report by JINSA's Iran task force also posited that "U.S. diplomatic engagement" with Iran "must be accompanied by greater pressure." The report called for an increase in aggressive U.S. actions against Iran such as "more public threats of a military response" and more public tests of US "bunker buster" weaponry like the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP).
In November 2014, as news broke that Russia would build two additional nuclear plants in Iran, JINSA's chief executive Michael Makovsky sought to blame the Obama administration for causing discord between the P5+1 nations negotiating with Iran (of which Russia is a member). Makovsky claimed that Russia's decision to build the plants "undermines P5+1 unity and reduces Iran's isolation."
Another key JINSA issue is the U.S. military budget. An April 2013 piece by visiting JINSA fellow Peter Huessy claimed that impending cuts to the U.S. military budget would hamstring what he characterized as "diplomatic" efforts, including protecting sea lanes and warding off cyberattacks. "A smaller U.S. military—weaker and less ready—risks being incapable of defending America's interests in a future crisis that is sure to emerge," he concluded. "A strong military, far from being an alternative to sound diplomacy, compliments [sic] such statecraft." Despite Huessy's alarmism about the "sequester" cuts brought on by Congress' failure to reach a budget deal, defense budget expert Miriam Pemberton pointed out that "sequestration will not 'gut' our military. Sequestration will take our military budget back to the level it was in 2007, when we were still fighting two wars."
JINSA has maintained a number of publications over the years, including the Journal of International Security Affairs, a biannual academic-style journal edited by Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) and a "contributing expert" for the Israel-based Ariel Center for Policy Research. Other publications have included the Observer, "a quarterly review of U.S.-Turkey-Israel cooperation" copublished by JINSA and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, and the Islamic Extremism Newswatch, a rundown of media stories covering the activities of everyone from the Palestinian Liberation Organization to al-Qaeda.
Each year, JINSA awards its favorite policy or military elite the Henry "Scoop" Jackson Distinguished Service Award. The award honors "those leaders whose careers have been distinguished by the principle that is the foundation of JINSA's work." Among the recipients have been Mark Kirk (2013), Lindsey Graham (2012), Jon Kyl (2010), John McCain (2006), Paul Wolfowitz (2002), Curt Weldon (1999), Joseph Lieberman (1997), Dick Cheney (1991), and Jeane Kirkpatrick (1984).
While traditional lobbying groups like the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee focus on influencing congressional figures' votes on legislation critical to U.S. support of Israel, JINSA works on developing military-to-military ties between the countries and pays special attention to weapons issues—especially missile defense—while maintaining close ties to the military-industrial complex.
According to journalist Mark Milstein, the broad contours of JINSA's work were originally crafted by Michael Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and the husband and wife team Stephen and Shoshana Bryen. In 1979, Stephen Bryen replaced Ledeen as JINSA's executive director, after Ledeen and other early directors had successfully worked to distance the organization "from the rest of the pro-Israel establishment, and methodically [create] close ties with the U.S. defense community." Ledeen was later implicated in what would become the Iran-Contra scandal. According to Milstein, under Bryen, JINSA became "fully operational, finally shedding its study group title in December 1979." When Bryen left JINSA in 1981 to take a post in the Reagan administration, he handed the reigns of the organization over to his wife.
Wrote Milstein: "Bryen became a consultant for Richard N. Perle, the Reagan administration assistant secretary of defense-designate. After Perle was confirmed by the Senate, Bryen was named deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of regulating the transfer of U.S. military technology to foreign countries. Critics at the time cited the placement of Bryen in one of the most sensitive positions at the Pentagon as evidence of the tilt in U.S. policy toward Israel under Reagan. 'They don't say no anymore to Israel at the Pentagon,' said a former high-ranking Defense Department official. 'Israel is the 51st state.' It was during the Reagan era that U.S. economic aid to Israel rose to $1.2 billion annually, and military aid to $1.8 billion annually. Bryen had a role in choosing not only what U.S. weaponry Israel would be allowed to purchase with those funds, but also what sensitive U.S. military technology would be made available to Israel for use in its own burgeoning arms industry."
Many individuals with defense industry backgrounds and affiliations have served on JINSA's board of advisers and have been involved in numerous contracts with Israel. Leon Edney, David Jeremiah, and Charles May, all retired U.S. military officers, have been consultants to Northrop Grumman, which has built Israeli ships and planes. JINSA advisers May, Paul Cerjan, and Carlisle Trost have also worked for Lockheed Martin, which has sold F-16s, flight simulators, and rocket systems to Israel. Trost has served as a member of the board of General Dynamics, whose subsidiary Gulfstream has a $206 million contract with the Pentagon.
Immediately after 9/11, JINSA joined other neoconservative-aligned groups like the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in calling for an expansive U.S. military response that would not be limited to attacking al-Qaeda. In a September 13, 2001 press release entitled "This Goes Beyond Bin Laden," JINSA joined a chorus of foreign policy hawks in arguing that Iraq should be a target of the war. It argued: "A long investigation to prove Osama bin Laden's guilt with prosecutorial certainty is entirely unnecessary. He is guilty in word and deed. His history is the source of his culpability. The same holds true for Saddam Hussein. Our actions in the past certainly were not forceful enough, and now we must seize the opportunity to alter this pattern of passivity."
Among its recommended list of actions for the U.S. government were: "Halt all U.S. purchases of Iraqi oil under the UN Oil for Food Program and ... provide all necessary support to [Ahmed Chalabi's] Iraq National Congress, including direct American military support, to effect a regime change in Iraq"; "revoke the Presidential Order banning assassinations"; "overturn the 1995 CIA Directive limiting whom the United States can recruit to aid counterterrorism in an effort to boost our human intelligence"; "demand that Egypt and Saudi Arabia sever all remaining ties with Osama bin Laden, including ties with Saudi-sponsored nongovernmental organizations and groups abroad that raise money for bin Laden and other terrorist organizations"; "suspend U.S. military aid to Egypt while reevaluating Egypt's support for American policy objectives"; and "reevaluate America's security relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States unless both actually join in our war against terrorism."
According to JINSA's Form 990 filings, the group reported around $3.5 million in revenues in 2012, down from $3.8 in 2008. Between 2001 and 2004, JINSA received nearly $8 million in gifts, grants, and contributions.
Thomas Neumann, JINSA's former executive director, once boasted: "We receive 99.9, no, 100% of our funding from private donations." He added, "We receive no money from Israel or any defense contractors." At the time of his comments in 1991, donors included Ronald Lauder (of Estee Lauder cosmetics), DC lobbyist Donald Agger, the Atlantic Research Corporation (a defense contractor), the Smith-Kogod family, the Air Force Association, the Armed Services Foundation, and Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces.
According to data collected by MediaTransparency.org, between 1998 and 2005, JINSA received nearly $200,000 from several major rightist donors, including the Smith Richardson Foundation, which gave a $100,000 grant to JINSA in 2003 aimed at facilitating exchanges between U.S. and Israeli law enforcement officials involved in combating terrorism threats. Another regular JINSA donor was Irving Moskowitz, a California magnate whose controversial donating activities included aiding right-wing settler groups in the Occupied Territories. According to the 2005 Form 990 of the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation, the bingo magnate donated $20,000 to JINSA in 2005 for "work against Islamic funded terrorism." Former JINSA president Norman Hascoe was also a substantial donor, having given hundreds of thousands to JINSA through his Hascoe Family Foundation, which remains active today.