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David Andelman’s ‘A Red Line in the Sand’ explores the current and potential conflicts proliferating around the globe

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Journalist David Andelman and his newest book, 'A Red Line in the Sand.'

Over the course of his colorful and prolific career as a journalist, David Andelman has hopped between 86 countries, dozens of disputed territories and his fair share of war zones. In his latest book, Andelman draws on his experiences to take a bird’s-eye view of the conflicts that are raging — and those that could spark at any moment — across the globe. 

In A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen, which hits bookshelves today, Andelman argues that the proliferation of so-called “red lines” around the world have left people less safe and situations less stable. Red lines, he writes, “physical, diplomatic, military, all too often existential… have reached a toxic apex in numbers and virulence at this very moment in history.” Throughout the book, Andelman traces the history and evolution of such red lines — which he defines in a variety of fluctuating ways — from the Korean peninsula to China, Russia, Iran, Africa and many other areas of the world. 

But Andelman, who has worked over the years for Forbes, CBS, Bloomberg, The New York Times and others, acknowledges that red lines can be used effectively in international diplomacy.

“I don’t necessarily think they’re a bad idea,” he told Jewish Insider in a recent phone interview. “They can be very useful in fact, if they’re properly constructed, properly built and properly understood by those on both sides of the red line.” 

The problem, he said, is the wild proliferation of hastily enacted, poorly planned and sloppily enforced red lines, “with consequences hardly thought through and utterly unforeseeable.” In the book, Andelman excoriates President Barack Obama’s haphazard establishment of a red line in Syria by way of an offhand remark during a 2012 speech, while he lambastes President Donald Trump for his “lack of any sort of global vision” and a foreign policy dominated by bluff and bluster. 

Asked to pick the one area of the world most at risk of spilling into all-out war, Andelman doesn’t hesitate: North Korea. 

“North Korea has a nuclear device already,” Andelman said. “Iran doesn’t. And this is the critical difference — and this is where I think the potentially more toxic moves could come.” 

But the situation in Iran, he added, “is the most active and interesting.” 

As President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, Andelman said, “you have forces within Iran… the Revolutionary Guards, and the more extremists among the mullahs, who really believe that this is the time for Iran really to move toward some kind of a nuclear device.” Iran is also restricting international inspectors from its nuclear sites, and recently passed a bill that would require the government to boost its uranium enrichment if U.S. sanctions are not lifted. “This is very dangerous, obviously,” said Andelman, who noted that this deadline will arrive in the middle of Israel’s latest election season, “and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu [is] probably continuing to take a very hard line on this… these red lines are solid in that respect. They’re dangerous, but they’re deeply embedded.” 

Biden’s quest to reenter the Iran deal that Trump pulled out of in 2018 “is going to be difficult — there’s no doubt about that,” said Andelman. One major question, he added, is that “all of the different signatories effectively need to agree that this is going to continue to be enforced — or is it going to be broken up.” 

While Netanyahu has made clear he has his own set of red lines on Iran, Andelman still sees Israel’s hands as somewhat tied. “It’s hard to see how Netanyahu or any other Israeli leader could really go it alone in that respect,” he said. “Netanyahu needs the United States for military capabilities. It’s never going to launch any kind of an attack on Iran” without international backing, Andelman suggested. 

In the section of the book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Andelman posits that “a two-state solution would seem to be the only viable formula for maintaining the seven-decade-old red line of the Israeli frontier.”

In conversation with JI, Andelman maintains that the red lines in Israel could actually be positive, but Israel’s moves on the ground, including “creeping settlements” and the construction of tunnels and roads in the West Bank, put those red lines in danger. 

“All of these things are little more than effectively trying to move the red lines quietly and surreptitiously,” he said. “Israel really needs to understand the value of the red lines that exist — and how they can be used to its advantage, and not simply figure that all these red lines are to the Palestinians advantage — because they’re not.” 

And while Andelman praised some aspects of the recent Abraham Accords, he said he is “somewhat more skeptical” of their long-term efficacy, “because it requires a certain degree of restraint by Netanyahu… on settlements and that sort of thing.” And when it comes to Sudan’s status as a state sponsor of terror and the U.S. recognition of Western Sahara as under Moroccan sovereignty, “there’s this whole sort of very fragile foundation that this whole thing is built on, that I’m afraid could come apart.” 

That being said, “I hope the Abraham Accords work,” he added. “I would like to see all of the Middle East recognize Israel… those are red lines that need to come down, barriers between countries, between civilizations that have existed for a very long time for no good reason.” 

By his count, Andelman has visited 86 countries across his varied and prolific news career, including multiple visits to Israel over the years, which have left an indelible impression. He recalls interviewing Prime Minister Menachem Begin “in one of his last interviews he gave… he was an extraordinary individual.” 

“I’ve been all over Israel, I have a great affection for Israel,” he said. “I like to think the best of Israel, and I like to think it’s a country that will do the right thing in all cases, and I’m not sure if the last few years that’s been the case.”

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