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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Emanuele Ottolenghi

  • Foundation for Defense of Democracies: Senior Fellow
  • Transatlantic Institute: Former Executive Director
  • National Review Online: Contributor
  • Commentary: Blog contributor

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Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Brussels-based senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., that has promoted an expansive “war on terror” and housed a slate of well-known neoconservative writers. Ottolenghi is also a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, a Cold War-era pressure group that was revived by leading hawks to push militarist U.S. foreign policies after 9/11, and is the former director of the Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute, a think tank affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, which previously published Commentary magazine and has backed other European–based “pro-Israel” groups like UN Watch. According to his FDD bio, Ottolenghi has lectured at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and at the Middle East Centre of St. Antony's College.[1]

FDD claims that Ottolenghi “is a leader for his work on Iran. He has advised several foreign ministries in Europe, and testified before the Canadian and European parliaments. Dr. Ottolenghi's extensive research exposed the connections between Iran's energy companies and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the paramilitary organization responsible for the regime's political repression and international terrorism activities.”[2]

Ottolenghi is a frequent contributor to a number of rightist outlets in the United States, including Commentary magazine and National Review Online. He also appears to promote his op-eds throughout the English-speaking world, having published in such outlets as The Age in Australia and the New Zealand Herald.[3] In an April 2012 article for the New Zealand Herald, Ottolenghi argued unequivocally that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons—even though western intelligence sources have concluded otherwise—and that if it acquired such weapons it would escalate what he characterized as Iran’s 33-year war with Israel. The article, titled “Iran Regime Change Only Hope,” led with the tag: “A cold war will quickly turn to a hot one unless drastic action is taken.”[4]

Ottolenghi has promoted increased western pressure on Iran from without and regime change from within. This includes strengthening sanctions, isolating the country in international policy settings, garnering the support of Iranian people, and condemning Tehran for human rights abuses. In an October 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed called “Free Iran,” he wrote: “As the weight of economic sanctions begins to crush Iran's economy, it is more important than ever that we reach out to ordinary Iranians to let them know that our disagreement is with the regime, not the people, and that their freedom is the best guarantee for our security. … For too long, Western democracies have spoken to the regime as if its oppressed subjects did not matter. The time has come to speak directly to the people of Iran and promise them that their human rights will be our cause too.”[5]

Ottolenghi’s views often align with those of the hawkish right in Israel. For instance, when discussing Palestinian issues, he tends to ignore Israeli human rights abuses and prefers instead to allege that there is an ingrained hostility towards Israel in the international community and that its leaders have had to make difficult political decisions. In a September 2010 article for FDD, he wrote: “Undoubtedly, a deeply embedded hostility to Israel is partly to explain for the readiness to condemn it for defending itself. But Israel's Gaza predicament also derives from its government's difficult balancing act, between its attempt to be free of responsibility for Gaza and its need to contain Hamas.”[6]

Ottolenghi’s contributions to Commentary's blog "Contentions" and the National Review Online frequently criticize European leaders and writers for having a less-than-supportive take on U.S. and Israeli policies. In a May 2007 entry, Ottolenghi lambasted Britain’s National Union of Journalists for supporting a boycott on Israeli goods because of the Israeli offensive against Lebanon in 2006. He wrote: “The boycotts have failed, so far, to accomplish any of the stated goals of the groups initiating them. And it’s tempting to dismiss them as a persistent but ineffectual fringe phenomenon in the acrimonious public debate over Israel. But such dismissal is becoming harder and harder. The National Union of Journalists is no fringe political organization; it’s an institution of long standing and high visibility in British life. Now that it has come clean about its stance on this issue, and in so doing has compromised gravely the journalistic integrity of its members, we can only ask who will be next. The BBC, perhaps?”[7]

Ottolenghi has also chided Europeans for not taking a stronger stance on Tehran's alleged nuclear weapons program and its aggressive posturing. In a 2007 posting on the Transatlantic Institute’s website entitled "Iran: The Looming Threat," Ottolenghi pushed Europe to use its economic strength to pressure Iran, arguing that Europeans "are doing something wrong, for our desire to make a profit with Iran in the short term will leave us at a loss in the long term." He wrote: "Europe can use its mighty economic, financial, and commercial clout to squeeze Iran. Iran's industry would come to a standstill if Europe stopped selling spare parts. Iran's economy would freeze if Europe stopped providing refined oil products—Iran has to import 40% of its gasoline despite being an exporter of crude. There is equally no need for Europe to promote economic ties. Yet, bilateral chambers of commerce based in Tehran do just that. European companies attend the annual fairs in the Iranian free trade zone in the island of Kish. And so far, when Iranian dignitaries come to Europe on a visit, nobody objects to the numerous Iranian business delegations they bring along. All this must change if Iran's regime is to be persuaded to change course without the recourse to force."[8]

In another piece pushing sanctions, Ottolenghi and Transatlantic Institute fellow Daniel Rackowski argued in the July 2007 article titled "Sanctions? Business!"  that Europe's "credibility" and "core values" depend on a singular achievement: "If Europe were to fail to prevent Iran's ambition to build a nuclear bomb, the world—Europe first and foremost—would be a more dangerous place. The United States, having backed Europe's multilateral diplomacy, would see this approach as a failure. The possibility of unilateralism, coalitions of the willing, and pre-emptive strikes, would regain credence, after the Iraq crisis cast a shadow on their viability." They highlighted Germany's dual roles as 2007 holder of the EU presidency and high-level trading partner with Iran, arguing: "As the current holder of the EU presidency and therefore the lead EU country on the international scene, Germany is a case in point: its volume of trade has increased very profitably precisely during the time when the EU-3—having unmasked Iran's nuclear ambitions—was trying to persuade Iran to back down from its bellicose intents.”[9]

In October 2007, Ottolenghi targeted Mohammad ElBaradei, then head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for criticizing Israel’s bombing of facilities in Syria that were suspected of having a connection to a nuclear program. He wrote: “ElBaradei called the raid ‘very distressful.’ It is not clear whether his distress stems from the raid’s success or from the complete lack of IAEA knowledge about the site prior to Israel’s attack. Officially, what bothers ElBaradei is the fact that Israel bombed the site rather than reporting its existence to ElBaradei himself: ‘To bomb first and then ask questions later, I think it undermines the system and it doesn’t lead to any solution.’ Given his track record on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and repeated violations of UN resolutions on the subject, one is hard-pressed to understand why reporting it is better than destroying it. Perhaps so that ElBaradei can engage in years of meaningless negotiations while the Syrians advance their program? No doubt, diplomacy has its merits. But if the IAEA actually is interested in countering proliferation, ElBaradei should be applauding Israel’s action—at least quietly.”[10]

In a letter to the editor of the Claremont Review of Books, a publication of the rightist Claremont Institute in California, Ottolenghi pointed to failings in the Bush administration’s democracy agenda and argued that the 9/11 terror attacks were the result of policies promoted by so-called realists. Commenting on an article by Charles Kesler, he wrote: "It is not just Iraq that has soured the neoconservative agenda. Freedom's foray into the Middle East has gone amiss. Lebanon's fledgling democracy is under sustained assault. And in Palestine, elections briefly gave power to Islamists, before they dragged their society into the brutal abyss of civil war. Few in the West wish to remember it now, but this was Algeria's condition, too, 15 years ago. In that country, not to mention elsewhere in the region, a strongman's repression seemed the only bulwark against savage anarchy. Western calls for a return to these old Middle East ways are the kind of political expediency that passes for realism these days, especially when someone else suffers for the sake of our political tranquillity. Sadly, today's self-proclaimed realists forget that 9/11 was a side effect of their strategy."[11]

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[1] FDD, "Emanuele Ottolenghi,” http://www.defenddemocracy.org/about-fdd/team-overview/emanuele-ottolenghi/.

[2] FDD, "Emanuele Ottolenghi,” http://www.defenddemocracy.org/about-fdd/team-overview/emanuele-ottolenghi/.

[3] See, for instance, Ottolenghi, “Iran is Not Iraq, and Past Mistakes Should Not Cloud Our Judgment,” The Age, March 30, 2012, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/iran-is-not-iraq-and-past-mistakes-should-not-cloud-our-judgment/; and  Ottolenghi, “Iran Regime Change Only Hope,” New Zealand Herald, April 4, 2012, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/iran-regime-change-only-hope/.

[4] Ottolenghi, “Iran Regime Change Only Hope,” New Zealand Herald, April 4, 2012, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/iran-regime-change-only-hope/.

[5] Emanuele Ottolenghi, “Free Iran,” Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB40001424052748703673604575549770886324554.html.

[6] Emanuele Ottolenghi, “Putting Paid to Gaza,” Haaretz, September 3, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/putting-paid-to-gaza-1.311863?localLinksEnabled=false.

[7] Emanuele Ottolenghi, “British Journalism v. Israel,” Commentary’s “Contentions,” May 4, 2007, http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/ottolenghi/399.

[8] Emanuele Ottolenghi, "Iran: The Looming Threat," Liberal MagazineOctober 30, 2007, http://www.transatlanticinstitute.org/html/pu_articles.html?id=393.

[9] Daniel Rackowski and Emanuele Ottolenghi, "Sanctions? Business!" Die Welt, September 4, 2007.

[10] Emanuele Ottolenghi, “Bombing First,” Commentary’s “Contentions,” October 29, 2007, http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/ottolenghi/1170.

[11] Emanuele Ottolenghi et al., "Correspondence: Promoting Democracy Abroad," Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2007, http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1482/article_detail.asp.

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Emanuele Ottolenghi Résumé


  • Foundation for Defense of Democracies: Senior Fellow (2010- )
  • Transatlantic Institute: Former Executive Director (2006-2010)
  • National Review Online: Contributor
  • Commentary: Blog contributor
  • Middle East Center of St. Antony’s College (Oxford University): Former teacher


  • University of Bologna
  • Hebrew University, Jerusalem: Ph.D.


Emanuele Ottolenghi News Feed

US naming Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism could backfire - VoxIran’s Top Airline Stays Busy—Despite U.S. Sanctions - The Wall Street JournalLebanon Is Protecting Hezbollah’s Cocaine Trade in Latin America - Foreign PolicyHezbollah's Tri-Border Area terror finance comes under fire at last By Emanuele Ottolenghi - Intelligence & Terrorism Information CenterDepartment of Justice right to go after Hezbollah | TheHill - The HillTrump Should Block Iran’s Air Corridor to Syria - Foreign PolicyDeal or no deal, Trump should punish Iran’s aviation sector | TheHill - The HillWhy Is Trump Going Soft on Hezbollah? - Foreign PolicyTreasury rightly clips wings of Iran's Mahan Air | TheHill - The HillThe Mystery Martyr - The Weekly StandardTri-border Governments Take Measures against Criminal Organization Linked to Hezbollah - Dialogo AmericasState Warns: Hezbollah Flooding Peru, Bolivia with Terrorist Assets - Breitbart NewsHezbollah in Latin America is a threat the US cannot ignore | TheHill - The HillTreasury Sanctions Sales Agency that Works with Iran's Mahan Air for Terror Support - TheTower.orgHezbollah drug trafficking should spur Trump to appoint DEA head | TheHill - The HillGet tough on Hezbollah, fix Obama's mistake: Revive Project Cassandra | TheHill - The HillIt’s Time for the Justice Department to Hold Hezbollah Accountable - Foreign PolicyTrump’s Iran problem takes to the skies with Iran Air | TheHill - The HillFix U.S. Airport Security before It's Too Late - The National Interest OnlineThe Iranian Express - The Weekly Standard

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