What makes this war different—and disturbing
Israel has battled Hamas four times since the terror organization seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Each battle unfolds the same way: Hamas launches rockets at Israel’s civilian population, Israel bombs Hamas targets, and the fighting continues until terrorist infrastructure is sufficiently degraded so that the rocket fire stops for a few years. Israelis call it “mowing the lawn.” The last major clash was in 2014. In its origins, order of battle, and strategy and tactics, Operation Guardian of the Walls, which began May 10, resembles these previous flareups.
So what’s different? Just about everything.
The region has changed. In 2014 the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, legitimizing the nuclear program of Israel’s archenemy Iran, was a gleam in John Kerry’s eye. Its adoption the following year, and America’s withdrawal from the agreement in 2018, realigned the Middle East along the axis of Iranian power. The result was an Arab-Israel détente formalized in the 2020 Abraham Accords. From a regional perspective, the Palestinian cause is less important than Iran’s ambitions.
Israel has changed. In 2014 Benjamin Netanyahu was at the outset of his third term and led from a position of strength. His indictment on corruption charges in 2019 initiated a political crisis that has led to four elections (and most likely a fifth) in the space of two years. On the eve of the latest violence, Israel’s bewildering politics became even more surprising when two of Netanyahu’s rivals enticed an Arab Islamist party to join a coalition government. That effort collapsed when the rockets blazed. The subsequent outbreak of intercommunal violence in cities with large Arab-Israeli populations is a reminder of Israel’s pressing domestic challenges. The security issue unites Israel. Just about everything else divides it.
America has changed. In the summer of 2014, Barack Obama was a lame duck, the Republicans controlled the House and were on the verge of winning the Senate, and Donald Trump was the host of Celebrity Apprentice. Obama’s dislike of Netanyahu and willingness to expose “daylight” between the United States and Israel was no secret. But anti-Israel invective was limited to the fringe. And anti-Israel media bias was nowhere near as bad as it is today.
Then came the Great Awokening. The dialectic of Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump drove the nation into its current obsession with race, culminating in the protests, riots, vandalism, cancellations, and iconoclasm that followed the murder of George Floyd one year ago. The Trump years brought a revolutionary fervor to American politics, radicalizing the left and burdening the rest of us with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her anti-Israel, socialist “Squad” of congressional Democrats.
The Squad shares an all-encompassing woke mindset that collapses individuals and events into a reductive binary of oppressor and oppressed. When the Squad looks at Israel and Hamas, it cannot see anything other than Critical Race Theory. And so this emboldened left draws disgustingly false equivalences between American racial minorities and Palestinians. It slanders Israel as an apartheid state. It demands America stop a planned weapons sale to Israel in the middle of our ally’s offensive against terrorists supplied by Iran. It says President Biden is “taking orders” from the Jewish prime minister.
What the Squad lacks in numbers it makes up for in noise. Its members exploit social media, show up on MSNBC, and amplify the hostility to Israel already thick on college campuses and in progressive enclaves. Its allies fill the op-ed pages with similar dreck, catering to the audience for politically correct, left-wing clickbait. The polemical onslaught is false and obnoxious. But it gets results, driving an Israel-shaped wedge into the Democratic Party and forcing Biden to step up his calls for a ceasefire.
This unappeasable hostility is a problem for Israel, for America, and for the Democratic Party. It makes me wonder if the head of the DNC has checked in lately with his British counterpart. There hasn’t been a Labour prime minister since 2010 and Labour just experienced another drubbing in local elections. Labour’s current leader has been trying to salvage his party’s reputation from the wreckage of his far-left anti-Semitic predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. It’s a struggle.
Explanation? Under Corbyn, Labour went hard left, abandoning its traditional working-class constituency for progressive social and cultural issues that appeal to the university crowd and the Very Online but turn off everyone else. Corbyn opposed Brexit, supported high levels of immigration, embraced political correctness, and tolerated the worst sort of anti-Semitism in his campaigns against Israel. The Socialist International became the Socialist Intersectional (Jews excluded).
The same process is well underway here. Not content with tearing down America, and energized by the cultural revolution of 2020, the Jackal Bins turn their gaze on the Jewish State. Anti-Semitism dogged the anti-Trump Women’s March. Black Lives Matter, which recently tweeted its advocacy for “Palestinian liberation”—no mention of Hamas’ genocidal intent—supports the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib require no introduction. Comedian Trevor Noah irresponsibly likens Hamas to a powerless four-year-old. The haters can’t believe their success.
Someone needs to disappoint them. As long as Hamas remains in power, Israel will be forced to defend itself. The Jewish State’s position in American politics can’t be allowed to deteriorate further. Not just for Israel’s sake. For ours.
By now most armchair pundits and faux Mideast experts have chimed in on the violence in Israel and Gaza. Some of the most frivolous comments come from misguided hyper woke celebrities and athletes who seek to establish their expertise when they know virtually nothing. For example, Trevor Noah, on MSNBC’s Joy Reid show claimed “Jewish Supremacy” was the cause of the violence, rather than the thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli civilians. To be clear, they are not misguided for feeling sympathy for the Palestinians living in Gaza, but rather, they are cartoonishly misguided for blaming Israel for the suffering.
The Israel/Palestinian conflict is among the most vexing foreign policy issues. However, there is nothing complex about the need to recognize that Hamas deserves absolute culpability for the suffering of average Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. I say “average” because poverty, unemployment and illiteracy are rampant in Gaza, but not among the Hamas elite.
Hamas has a specific and obvious raison d’être — to kill as many Jews as possible. No mind reading is required to know this — it is Hamas’ explicitly stated goal. They spend most of their foreign aid money not on much needed infrastructure, COVID vaccinations, or education. Instead, their priority is building illegal smuggling tunnels from which they launch attacks, and unguided rocket technology from Iran to indiscriminately target Israeli civilians.
Hamas prefers using the money it receives from well-meaning nations including the US, and many European and Middle Eastern nations to launch attacks, murder homosexuals, oppress women, and prevent truly democratic institutions from taking root. If you doubt this, try going to Gaza when things settle down and attempt to form a new political party that supports equal rights for women and homosexuals and that actually seeks peace.
Before the George W. Bush years, Hamas was a rogue terror group with no official power. However, the unintended consequences of the Bush foreign policy of rightly condemning the PLO/Arafat regime for rampant corruption and an unwillingness to make peace, unfortunately led to the election of Hamas in Gaza. Thus, the only time Gazans were afforded an actual choice began Hamas’ reign of terror.
Since those faithful years, Palestinians have been living in a prison of their own making. In fact, a significant percentage of Hamas rockets fired at Israel did not even make it to Israel from Gaza, killing or injuring many Palestinians. This is, of course, of no consequence to Hamas leaders who see average Gazans as pawns to manipulate in order to maintain power. But it is even more troubling that liberal celebrities and media organizations don’t care and end up acting as a shield to the monstrous actions of Hamas.
No matter how pro-Palestinian one may be, to normalize the actions of Hamas, as so many liberal journalists are doing (and a few folks among the alt-Right), is to directly oppose and fight against the hope of a better future for Gazans.
As usual, support for Israel is nearly unanimous among the GOP. While some Republicans want foreign aid generally reduced across the board as a budgetary matter, none would disagree with Israel’s inherent right to self-defense.
This is juxtaposed to an increasingly hostile Democratic Party who once were part of the bedrock support of Israel. Now, its Middle East policy is increasingly driven by younger Democrats who are extremely woke and see Israel as the automatic aggressor, regardless of the facts. For some reason Hamas escapes any real blame.
Over the last few years of President Trump’s term, the world saw a flowering of new peace arrangements between Israel and Arab nations, including but not limited to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Morocco. Amazingly, UAE officials have threatened to cut investment in Gaza if Hamas does not immediately commit to complete calm. They have admitted what many have known for some time, that Hamas policies are hurting the people of Gaza. This is a far more enlightened understanding than that of the Washington Post or foreign policy professors at Harvard University.
The irony is that during this time of immense political and security challenges facing Israel, it is the Republicans who stand steadfast with our ally Israel. As Democratic support for Israel continues to wane, even “pro-Israel” Democrats are more apt to criticize the GOP for “making the Israel issue political” rather than criticizing their own for being increasingly radical and woke while ignoring fact.
For Israel, the choice is the same today as it was decades ago when Golda Meir said: “If we have to choose between being dead and pitied, and being alive with a bad image, we’d rather be alive and have the bad image.”
Three recent events, two of them from the past week, haven’t gotten the news coverage they deserve as the Biden administration desperately pursues a rapprochement with Iran.
The first is the U.S. Navy’s seizure over the weekend of a significant weapons shipment. It contained “dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launchers … [and] advanced optical sights,” the Fifth Fleet said in a statement.
The cache was destined for Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, whom the Biden administration recently delisted as a terrorist organization. No serious person believes the arms didn’t originate in Iran, though for obviously political reasons the United States Navy prefers not to state the obvious.
In neighboring Iraq, a prominent Iraqi political activist and critic of Iranian influence in his country, particularly the arming and funding of pro-Tehran militias, was gunned down—the latest in a series of Iran critics to turn up dead. The early reporting suggests an Iranian militia is to blame.
Finally, there is the escalating security situation in the Persian Gulf. After several years of tranquility along one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, Iran has returned to harassing American ships. In early April, one IRGC Navy boat harassed U.S. Navy and Coast Guard boats; weeks later, three IRGC boats got so close that the United States fired warning shots for the first time in years. Thirteen IRGC armed speedboats harassed U.S. ships on Monday again forcing them to fire warning shots.
In response, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said yesterday that “harassment by the IRGC Navy is not a new phenomenon.” That depends on the definition of the word “new”: This round of antagonistic behavior began a few weeks ago, after several years of comparative Iranian good behavior in the Gulf.
These events make clear that Tehran feels no pressure to demonstrate goodwill to the Biden administration, preferring confrontation and violence. It cannot be a coincidence that these events are unfolding in the midst of the administration’s campaign to reenter the nuclear deal.
No matter how many times the pattern repeats itself, JCPOA supporters refuse to learn that Iran repays engagement with contempt, not good behavior, and that the Iranians know a dupe when they see one. Looking at you, Rob Malley.
Elsewhere in the region, the Hamas terrorist organization is demonstrating the same astute appreciation for weakness. A month after Team Biden announced its intention to restore U.S. aid programs to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and resume funding for UNRWA, Hamas rockets are raining down on Israel. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is glorifying the behavior and encouraging the attacks.
The Biden administration pledged to revive aid to the Palestinians—and to jump back into the nuclear deal—to advance peace.
In both cases, the administration has been repaid with violence and humiliation.
And makes a mockery of his democracy agenda
That didn’t take long. One week after piously and erroneously repudiating the Commission on Unalienable Rights established by his predecessor Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed the hollow selectivity of this administration’s commitment to human rights and democratic reform.
On April 7, Blinken said he was “pleased to announce” the reinstatement of tens of millions of dollars in aid to the West Bank and Gaza and of some $150 million to support the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). “All assistance will be provided consistent with U.S. law,” Blinken added.
Easier said than done. The Taylor Force Act, signed into law in 2018, withholds aid from the Palestinian Authority until the State Department certifies that the ruling party of the West Bank has terminated payments to family members of terrorists. It hasn’t. That was one reason the Trump administration slashed the aid in the first place. Nor is there evidence that suddenly the Palestinians have curtailed the so-called pay-to-slay schemes that incentivize the murder of civilians and the perpetuation of conflict. On the contrary: They bristle at the idea of changing their corrupt and self-destructive ways.
A second law from 2018, the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, holds beneficiaries of foreign assistance legally and financially responsible for terrorism committed against U.S. citizens. This notion — that the Palestinian Authority might actually have to pay a price for its incitement to anti-Semitic violence — so terrified the leadership in the West Bank that it sent a letter to the Trump administration in February 2019 renouncing U.S. aid. I must have missed the make-up note postmarked Ramallah.
UNRWA long ago abandoned its original mission for anti-Israel activism. According to Pompeo, there are fewer than 200,000 Palestinian Arabs who remain displaced by the 1948 war. Rather than work to resettle this dwindling population, UNRWA devotes its resources to the delegitimization of Israel and to the perpetuation of a mythic “right of return” that obstructs peace. UNRWA also operates in the Gaza Strip, where its facilities were used by Hamas operatives and other terrorists during the 2014 war with Israel.
“Obviously, there are areas where we would like to see reform,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a recent briefing. That’s the understatement of the year. But what hope is there for reform of UNRWA when the Biden administration rewards it for doing nothing?
A conceit of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy is that involvement in corrupt multilateral institutions somehow gives the United States an opportunity to improve them. “By resuming this assistance today, not only do we have that dialogue, but we have a seat at the table,” Price said. “We can help drive UNRWA in the ways that we think it is in our interest and consistent with our values to do.” That was also his argument for rejoining the World Health Organization and the U.N. Human Rights Council. He has little to show for it. The results so far: A propagandistic and misleading investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, and four anti-Israel resolutions. Having a seat at the table doesn’t matter when everyone ignores you.
What was particularly galling about Blinken’s announcement was its disconnect from the nature of Palestinian governance. Here is an administration that says the conflict between democracy and authoritarianism will define the 21st century. Here is an administration that prides itself on its support for human rights. And here is an administration that says it will be able to prevent millions in taxpayer funds from directly benefiting the Palestinian Authority, and thereby breaking U.S. law, by taking into account
the intended primary beneficiary or end user of the assistance; whether the PA is the direct recipient of the assistance, of course; whether the assistance involves payments of Palestinian Authority creditors; the extent of ownership or control the PA exerts over an entity or an individual that is the primary beneficiary or end user of the assistance; and whether the assistance or, in some cases, the services provided directly replace assistance or services that the PA would otherwise provide.
Good luck. The renewed assistance, remember, will be circulated in a polity whose president is in the 16th year of a four-year term, whose official corruption is legendary, whose 2.7 million subjects are policed by no fewer than six internal security forces, and whose entry in the 2020 State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices reads as follows:
reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, torture, and arbitrary detention by authorities; holding political prisoners and detainees; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations; restrictions on political participation, as the Palestinian Authority has not held a national election since 2006; acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; anti-Semitism in school textbooks; violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and reports of forced child labor.
The entry for Hamas is no better.
For all of his “transformative” ambitions at home, Biden’s Middle East policy is remarkably backward-looking and uninspired. By denying aid to the Palestinians and UNRWA, the Trump administration recognized that the Israeli–Palestinian peace process had become a counterproductive sideshow, and that U.S. aid wasn’t contributing to the resolution of conflict, but incentivizing it. The more urgent problem is Iran, which is why Trump was able to broker the Abraham Accords between Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco.
Now Biden has pivoted away from the anti-Iran coalition and toward the pro-Iran deal European allies. He’s distanced himself from Israel and moved toward the Palestinians. He’s rebuked the Saudis and coaxed the Houthis. He is trying to reconstruct, ever so slowly, Barack Obama’s Middle East. But he hasn’t really explained why this time will be different. After all: When you reward bad behavior, you get more of it. And that is exactly what Biden is doing.
By defying conventional wisdom on the Middle East and China, he reshaped both political parties
On Sept. 16 the editorial board of the New York Times did the impossible. It said something nice about President Trump. “The normalization of relations between Israel and two Arab states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, is, on the face of it, a good and beneficial development,” the editors wrote. They even went so far as to say that the “Trump administration deserves credit for brokering it.” I had to read that sentence twice to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Perhaps the world really is ending.
Or perhaps the Times cannot avoid the reality that the “Abraham Accords” between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain are a historic achievement. It is the first advance toward peace in the Middle East since Israel signed a treaty with Jordan in 1994. By exposing the intransigence and corruption of the Palestinian authorities, and thereby removing them from the diplomatic equation, the Trump administration reestablished the “peace process” as a negotiation between states. And because the states in the region face a common foe—Iran—they have every incentive to band together. This is textbook realpolitik. The world is better off for it.
Just as remarkable as the deal itself is the bipartisan applause that greeted it in the United States. No one needs reminding that domestic politics is polarized and paranoid. Each party is convinced that the other one will extinguish democracy at the first opportunity. The past three presidencies have been jarringly discontinuous in style, temperament, and policy. But the same Democrats who sometimes appear eager to remove Donald Trump from office by any means necessary treated this foreign policy accomplishment with equanimity and acquiescence. “It is good to see others in the Middle East recognizing Israel and even welcoming it as a partner,” Biden said in a statement, adding that “a Biden-Harris administration will build on these steps.” Senator Chris Coons of Delaware told Jewish Insider that the agreement is “a very positive thing.”
The irony is that Trump’s opponents are ready to accept this “very positive thing” despite warning against and objecting to the policies that contributed to it. Through his personal relationship with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump reaffirmed that there is “no daylight” between the United States and Israel after an eight-year caesura. He defied conventional wisdom when he moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, when he withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, when he cut off aid to the Palestinians, when he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and when he ordered the lethal strike against Qassem Soleimani. But the catastrophes that the foreign policy establishment predicted would follow each of these measures never materialized. What emerged instead were the Abraham Accords and a growing alliance against Iran.
It is in the realm of foreign policy that Trump’s deviations from political norms have had the most positive and irreversible consequences. If he becomes president, Joe Biden may mistakenly try to revive the chances for Palestinian statehood by getting tough on the Israelis. He may attempt to resuscitate the moribund Iran deal. But it is highly doubtful that he will rescind the Abraham Accords, or withdraw recognition of Israel’s Golan sovereignty, or return the U.S. embassy to Tel Aviv. He won’t have the support for such decisions. And he won’t have any good reason to make them. Anyone who has read the news latelyunderstands that a strong and engaged Israel is good for security. Her enemies are our enemies.
By establishing inescapable facts on the ground over the ceaseless objections of critics, President Trump overrides the often meaningless verbiage that constitutes international diplomacy and ends up changing the very terms of the foreign policy conversation. Nowhere has this dynamic been clearer than in U.S. relations with China.
Beginning with his surprise call to Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen in December 2016 and continuing through his resumption of U.S. Navy freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea the following year, his tariffs on Chinese goods in 2018, his and his administration’s rhetorical barrage against China beginning in earnest in 2019, and culminating in his multiple actions against China this year, from limiting travel to canceling visas to forcing the sale of TikTok to tightening the vise on Huawei to selling an additional $7 billion in arms to Taiwan, Trump has reoriented America’s approach to the People’s Republic. No longer is China encouraged to be a “responsible stakeholder.” It is recognized as a great-power competitor.
Resistance to this proper understanding of China’s position in the international system remains strong. But it is unquestionably the case that both Republicans and Democrats are starting to see China more as a threat than a partner. And it is Donald Trump who is behind this clarification of vision. (Xi Jinping and the pandemic helped too.) Whatever a President Biden might do about China—and he seems far more interested in repairing our alliances in “Old Europe” than in tackling this paramount challenge of the 21st century—he would operate within the constraints Trump established and on the intellectual terrain Trump landscaped.ADVERTISING
There is no greater measure of presidential significance than a chief executive’s ability to transform not just his own but also the opposing party. When it comes to the Middle East and China, the Democrats are closer to Donald Trump today than they were at the outset of his term. That they find themselves in accordance with someone whom they despise is evidence of Trump’s ability to realign politics at home and abroad. This is no small feat.
Some might say it’s worthy of a prize.
President Donald announced another historic peace deal for the Middle East on Friday between Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain.
A joint statement released by the United States, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the State of Israel announced the “establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain.”
The agreement also specifies that “peaceful worshippers of all faiths” will be allowed to visit mosques and holy sites in Israel.
In the statement, King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed their intent to “achieve a just, comprehensive, and enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and praised Trump for “his dedication to peace in the region, his focus on shared challenges, and the pragmatic and unique approach he has taken to bringing their nations together.”
President Trump tweeted his support of the deal, calling it “another HISTORIC breakthrough” with “our two GREAT friends.”
The peace deal is the second of its kind involving Israel in the last month in a broader effort by the Trump administration to facilitate “stability, security, and prosperity” in the Middle East. A similar deal was struck between the United Arab Emirates and Israel in early August, making it the first “Gulf Arab country to open relations with the Jewish nation.”
In the Israel and UAE peace deal statement, the White House signaled the United States will be helping Israel continue to facilitate peace in the region with their largely Islamic neighbors.
“As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world.”
White House Innovations Director Jared Kushner praised Trump for assisting in two previously “unthinkable” deals for the Middle East. He said the deal met much “optimism” on his most recent trip overseas.
“This makes America safer, allows us to bring our troops home, and allows us to work on bringing prosperity to American communities,” Kushner said.
According to the joint statement, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani will sign the official “Declaration of Peace” on Sept. 15 at the White House.
Could it signal a new era in the Middle East?
President Trump last Thursday announced the first Middle Eastern treaty in 26 years between Israel and an Arab country. Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will establish full diplomatic relations between the two countries. The heart of the agreement is the UAE recognition of Israeli sovereignty in exchange for Israel’s postponing its intention to annex the Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The treaty is being hailed as a major step toward peace in the Middle East.
Most of us do not know enough about the situation to understand the importance of this step. So, let’s take a quick look.
From President Trump’s first trip abroad which was to Saudi Arabia in 2017 and ever since, one of his first priorities in foreign policy has been to promote peace in the Middle East, which has cost the United States so much blood and treasure in the past several years. The underlying motivation for USA involvement since the 1920’s has been protection of America’s oil supply, the greatest source of which has been the Middle East, specifically (since the fall of Iran in 1978) Saudi Arabia.
One of the greatest imperatives, therefore, has been to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. Luckily, the development of new technology for the venerable practice of fracking has made that goal achievable, and the encouragement of the new Administration has assisted the industry to realize America’s independence from importing foreign oil – a major milestone in Middle Eastern policy.
The full effect of this abundance, however, has been delayed by the lack of available refinery capacity, due to very onerous restrictions imposed by previous Congresses aimed at protecting the environment. Nevertheless, the USA now occupies a much stronger position than previously in its Middle Eastern negotiations.
The other major factor in Middle Eastern policy since 1948 has been the US relationship with Israel, particularly, the hostility with which Israel has been viewed by its Arab neighbors. Egypt, the largest Arab neighbor of Israel, made peace with Israel in 1978. That treaty was brokered by President Jimmy Carter after President Richard Nixon saved the Israelis from defeat in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. However, there have been few additional breakthroughs since then as the Palestinians grew more and more influential after being adopted by Iran.
This treaty has followed a succession of moves by the Trump Administration over the past three years, after President Obama had alienated the Sunni Muslim neighbors of Israel by his extraordinary treatment of Iran, the leader now of the Shia Muslim countries in the age old feud between the two branches of Islam. The open enmity of the Iranian leadership toward all the allies of the United States, especially against its Sunni neighbors, has been growing as Iran has committed more and more resources to its terrorist activities. Understandably, the Obama pact has therefore become ever more odious to our Sunni allies. So, in order to show them good faith, Trump repudiated that agreement (which was never ratified by the US Senate).
Next, he moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, implementing a promise made by several of his predecessors but never executed. He then formed the Sunni-Israeli Coalition which unofficially coordinates the anti-Iran activities of its members – Israel, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman. The establishment of this group is an astonishing development, given the fierce anti-Israeli posture of Arabs in the past. It also engages the leader of the Sunni opposition, Saudi Arabia, with Israel in a way which was inconceivable only a few years ago.
Now comes the treaty with the UAE. Because of its strategic position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and the beginning of the Gulf of Oman as well as its vast oil reserves, the UAE is very influential as a trend-setter among the Sunni countries. It also has a very vulnerable coastline across the narrowest stretch of Persian Gulf water between its shores and coast of Iran.
Another consideration can be imputed to the government in that its economy – and its citizens – tend to be aggressive, prosperous and progressive. The increased familiarity with Israel is bound to be reflected in an increased exposure to the United States which bodes well for one of the historically most active trading centers in the Gulf, if not in the entire Arab world. This aspect of the new treaty is highlighted by the invitation to the principals to come to the White House for the official signing of the treaty in the next three weeks.
In summary, this treaty joins similar treaties between Israel and two other Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan (1984), and is a significant step towards the President’s goal of creating a more peaceful Middle East, where the USA’s interests can be trade and commerce instead of war and violence. However, this development and the trend of the Sunni nations to band together with the United States does have a military implication.
For one thing, it puts Iraq, a traditional enemy of Iran, but one where Iranian influence has been rapidly increasing, right in the crosshairs of the territorial distance between Iran’s eastern border with Iran, and its western border with Saudi Arabia. In spite of all the sacrifices Americans made to win freedom for the Iraqi people, the ascendency of Iran’s influence there makes its future posture toward the USA highly problematical.
Be that as it may, UAE’s joining the American side of this rivalry must be comforting to them. And this, of course, is due to the Trump revival of America’s military capabilities. Seeking protection from a country which could not defeat a ragtag force of Afghan rebels in 19 years would not be attractive without it. Only a double-edged initiative of diplomacy and might will win new friends.
Finally, there is China. The UAE is one of China’s major suppliers of energy. Accordingly, China has been taking a notable interest in the UAE — and all of the Gulf states. It is not beyond imagination that China has had its eye on major influence, if not control, of the Persian Gulf, with its friend Iran on one bank and the UAE on the other. China’s avowed goal of world domination would be well served if their permission, if not assistance, would be required for commerce to continue in the world’s most active energy industry depots. In that particular race, the treaty means America 1, China 0.
Well done, Mr. President, and congratulations also to your young phenomenon, Jared Kushner (who represented the President on these negotiations).
Israeli leaders have agreed to a framework for a Palestinian state that would see the new country more than double in size with its capital located in Eastern Jerusalem, according to information provided by the White House.
The Trump administration unveiled on Tuesday its long-anticipated plan to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The plan, which White House officials say has already been agreed to by Israel, would see the Jewish state freezing for four years all construction in contested territories that could be used to form a new Palestinian state.
Under Trump’s plan, a Palestinian state “will more than double the size of the land currently used by the Palestinians” and include areas in Eastern Jerusalem. Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital city and under its control, according to the White House.
“Israel has now agreed to terms for a future Palestinian State,” the White House announced in informational materials outlining the peace framework. “Israel has agreed to a four-year land freeze to secure the possibility of a two-state solution.”
“President Trump secured agreement from both Prime Minister Netanyahu and opposition leader Lieutenant General Benny Gantz to come to Washington, where they agreed to use this Vision as a basis for negotiation,” the White House wrote in the latest materials outlining the new plan. “For the first time in this conflict, President Trump has reached an understanding with Israel regarding a map setting forth borders for a two-state solution.”
Under the plan, which has already been dubbed dead on arrival by leading Palestinian factions, “Jerusalem will stay united and remain the capital of Israel, while the capital of the State of Palestine will be Al-Quds and include areas of East Jerusalem.”
“Beyond territory, the Vision provides for Palestinian use and management of facilities at the Haifa and Ashdod ports, Palestinian development of a resort area on the north shore of the Dead Sea, and continued Palestinian agricultural activity in the Jordan Valley,” the White House materials continue.
The plan envisions a scenario where “neither Palestinians nor Israelis will be uprooted from their homes,” though it remains unclear how this goal will be achieved on the ground.
The White House emphasized portions of the plan that focus on protecting Israeli security interests. To this end, unlike past proposals, the plan “does not ask Israel to take additional security risks and enables Israel to defend itself by itself against any threats.”
U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman told reporters the plan marks “a huge advancement in the peace process.”
Maps showing a future Palestinian state in detail will soon be released by the White House, Friedman said. He described the plan as “a realistic two-state solution.”
Friedman said the plan is unique in that it “mitigates many of the risks that were never solved in past negotiations” between the two sides by enhancing “the territorial footprint of [the] Gaza [Strip]” without impacting Israeli security concerns.
The Palestinian state will be demilitarized and Israel will maintain security responsibility west of the Jordan River, a key area.
“Over time, the Palestinians will work with United States and Israel to assume more security responsibility as Israel reduces its security footprint,” the White House said.
Major religious sites in and around Jerusalem will continue to be maintained by Israel with the longstanding carve outs for Muslim holy sites remaining in place.
“The special and historic role of the King of Jordan with regard to the Muslim Holy Shrines in Jerusalem will be preserved,” the White House said. “All Muslims are welcome to peacefully visit al-Aqsa Mosque.”
We have a golden opportunity to begin our departure from the Middle East
Federalist columnist Willis L. Krumholz, speaking for Middle America in an insightful article, asks, “The Fundamental Question is: Why is America Still in the Middle East?” (The Federalist Daily Briefing, January 6, 2020). His answer is; America’s newfound oil independence eliminates America’s interest in the Middle East. So, it is time to leave the Middle East.
American involvement in the Middle East formally began in 1928 with the Red Line Agreement, essentially splitting access to the oil properties of the northern Middle East (principally Iraq) between France, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1933, the USA entered into an agreement with Saudi Arabia to form ARAMCO, a joint venture to exploit that country’s newly discovered oil fields. America’s relationship with Iran was solidified by the CIA-aided 1953 coup d’état which established the Shah of Iran as the country’s ruler. The Shah was overthrown by the current leadership of Iran in 1978, leading to the sacking of the American embassy and holding of American diplomats hostage until 1980. This was the first overtly anti-American incident in what became a long series of assaults against American interests in the Middle East, culminating in the 2001 attacks.
The 21st century wars between the Americans and Islamic terrorists which followed 2001 are familiar to most Americans.
The major stake that all Western countries have had in the Middle East for the past century has been the need for oil which has powered the economic and technological advances that became the foundation of Western civilization. Control of that resource has been a critical, life-or-death priority for these countries.
That control has been very expensive in the 21st century. Total casualties through 2018 including civilians are estimated at 500,000. US casualties alone were 7820 (including contractors and civilians) (Source: Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, November 2018). The financial costs of these wars are estimated at $6.4 trillion – nearly 1/4 of our national debt (Krumholtz, ibid.).
This equation has undergone a radical change in the past five years with the result that the USA is now energy independent The USA has become in fact the largest energy exporting nation in the world, thanks to technological developments in the energy industry, especially rediscovery and refinement of fracking. The USA no longer needs Middle Eastern oil. The motivation which has fueled our involvement in Middle Eastern affairs since 1928 has evaporated!
Our remaining interests seem to be 1) safeguarding the security of Israel — a moral rather than a strategic obligation, and 2) the denuclearization of a very recalcitrant Iran. We have NO remaining strategic interest in Iraq. That being the case, when last week’s vote by the Iraqi parliament to prohibit the presence of foreign soldiers in their country was concluded, our answer should be “GOODBYE IRAQ!” This is a gold-plated opportunity for us to pack our soldiers and our ordinance and leave this god-forsaken country to its own devices.
Why on earth should we abandon the country where we have invested so much blood and treasure to free them from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein? In order to understand the actual peril of our continued involvement in the Middle East, it is necessary to recall that the underlying reality of the region is the war between the two dominant sects of Islam: the Sunnis and the Shia. This war had been going on for 1400 years. The course of events which has driven US policy over time has put America on the side of the Sunnis, largely because we were expelled from Iran, the leading Shia nation, and accepted by the leading Sunni country, Saudi Arabia.
We have supported the Sunnis even to the extent of recently organizing a formal alliance between the several Sunni nations and equipping and fighting their wars, especially in Iraq, Syria, and earlier in Lebanon. Since Iraq is predominantly Shia (60-70%), they will never be happy with our Sunni allies. They want us to leave. If we don’t want to get drawn into their thousand-year war with the Sunnis, we should get out while we can.
As Krumholz reminds us, Iran is bordered in the north by Afghanistan and the south by Iraq, both occupied by Americans. They are surrounded, and they will not give up as long as that situation exists. It is definitely not in our national interest to find ourselves leading the Sunnis in their ongoing war with the Shia.
What about our leverage to denuclearize crazy Iran? Today’s weaponry allows long-range warfare, as our recent sorties against Syrian and Iraqi targets has demonstrated. As long as we retain that capability, whether by land bases or sea, we have the needed leverage to protect our interests. Our withdrawal of ground troops will have to be gradual in any case, and our negotiations can be paced accordingly.
Some critics might worry that this withdrawal at this time would be interpreted by Iran and the world as the triumph of Iran in the current contest of wills. The simple explanation would be that America has always proclaimed and actually sought peace, not conquest, of iran and Iraq as well. This gesture is a concrete proof of our intentions, We will maintain our long range strike capacity and our economic sanctions as long as Iran poses a nuclear threat and we will follow up on the President’s call on NATO to take a more active part in this policy, but our motivations are truly peace and prosperity for all nations.
So, what about Israel? This is a somewhat different challenge. For the most part, our Mediterranean fleet can (and has) provided much of the needed cover. For out-of-range options, coordination with the Israelis themselves should provide the answers.
The bottom line is that America’s most basic responsibility is the strategic deployment of our forces in areas of national interest only. The lives and futures of these troops are not to be squandered recklessly on misbegotten missionary adventures of nation-building to “spread democracy’” especially to countries whose entire history and culture demonstrates their lack of receptivity to our doctrine, emancipating as it has been for us.
Column: And scores a victory against terrorism
The successful operation against Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, is a stunning blow to international terrorism and a reassertion of American might. It will also test President Trump’s Iran strategy. It is now Trump, not Ayatollah Khamenei, who has ascended a rung on the ladder of escalation by killing the military architect of Iran’s Shiite empire. For years, Iran has set the rules. It was Iran that picked the time and place of confrontation. No more.
Reciprocity has been the key to understanding Donald Trump. Whether you are a media figure or a mullah, a prime minister or a pope, he will be good to you if you are good to him. Say something mean, though, or work against his interests, and he will respond in force. It won’t be pretty. It won’t be polite. There will be fallout. But you may think twice before crossing him again.
That has been the case with Iran. President Trump has conditioned his policies on Iranian behavior. When Iran spread its malign influence, Trump acted to check it. When Iran struck, Trump hit back: never disproportionately, never definitively. He left open the possibility of negotiations. He doesn’t want to have the Greater Middle East—whether Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, or Afghanistan—dominate his presidency the way it dominated those of Barack Obama and George W. Bush. America no longer needs Middle Eastern oil. Best keep the region on the back burner. Watch it so it doesn’t boil over. Do not overcommit resources to this underdeveloped, war-torn, sectarian land.
The result was reciprocal antagonism. In 2018, Trump withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by his predecessor. He began jacking up sanctions. The Iranian economy turned to shambles. This “maximum pressure” campaign of economic warfare deprived the Iranian war machine of revenue and drove a wedge between the Iranian public and the Iranian government. Trump offered the opportunity to negotiate a new agreement. Iran refused.
And began to lash out. Last June, Iran’s fingerprints were all over two oil tankers that exploded in the Persian Gulf. Trump tightened the screws. Iran downed a U.S. drone. Trump called off a military strike at the last minute and responded indirectly, with more sanctions, cyber attacks, and additional troop deployments to the region. Last September a drone fleet launched by Iranian proxies in Yemen devastated the Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. Trump responded as he had to previous incidents: nonviolently.
Iran slowly brought the region to a boil. First it hit boats, then drones, then the key infrastructure of a critical ally. On December 27 it went further. Members of the Kataib Hezbollah militia launched rockets at a U.S. installation near Kirkuk, Iraq. Four U.S. soldiers were wounded. An American contractor was killed.
Destroying physical objects merited economic sanctions and cyber intrusions. Ending lives required a lethal response. It arrived on December 29 when F-15s pounded five Kataib Hezbollah facilities across Iraq and Syria. At least 25 militiamen were killed. Then, when Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias organized a mob to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, setting fire to the grounds, America made a show of force and threatened severe reprisals. The angry crowd melted away.
The risk to the U.S. embassy—and the possibility of another Benghazi—must have angered Trump. “The game has changed,” Secretary of Defense Esper said hours before the assassination of Soleimani at Baghdad airport. Indeed, it has. The decades-long gray-zone conflict between Iran and the United States manifested itself in subterfuge, terrorism, technological combat, financial chicanery, and proxy forces. Throughout it all, the two sides confronted each other directly only once: in the second half of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. That is about to change.
Deterrence, says Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, is credibly holding at risk something your adversary holds dear. If the reports out of Iraq are true, President Trump has put at risk the entirety of the Iranian imperial enterprise even as his maximum pressure campaign strangles the Iranian economy and fosters domestic unrest. That will get the ayatollah’s attention. And now the United States must prepare for his answer.
The bombs over Baghdad? That was Trump calling Khamenei’s bluff. The game has changed. But it isn’t over.
by Caroline Glick • RealClearPolitics
The US has striven to achieve peaceable relations between the states of the Middle East for nearly 70 years. Yet today, US government is disparaging the burgeoning strategic ties between the Sunni Arab states and Israel.
In a briefing to a delegation of visiting Israeli diplomatic correspondents in Washington last week, a senior Obama administration official sneered that the only noticeable shift in Israel-Arab relations in recent years is that the current Egyptian government has been coordinating security issues “more closely” with Jerusalem than the previous one did.
“But we have yet to see that change materialize in the Gulf.”
If this is how the US views the state of Israel’s relations with the Arabs, then Israel should consider canceling its intelligence cooperation with the US. Because apparently, the Americans haven’t a clue what is happening in the Middle East.
First of all, to characterize the transformation of Israeli-Egyptian relations as a mere question of “more closely” coordinating on security issues is to vastly trivialize what has happened over the past two years. Continue reading
By Charles Krauthammer • The Washington Post
His secretary of defense says, “The world is exploding all over.” His attorney general says that the threat of terror “keeps me up at night.” The world bears them out. On Tuesday, American hostage Kayla Mueller is confirmed dead. On Wednesday, the U.S. evacuates its embassy in Yemen, a country cited by President Obama last September as an American success in fighting terrorism.
Yet Obama’s reaction to, shall we say, turmoil abroad has been one of alarming lassitude and passivity. Continue reading
Public support for the president’s foreign policy is waning—and he’s losing Democratic lawmakers
by William A. Galston • Wall Street Journal
In March my Brookings colleague Robert Kagan memorably observed that President Obama was giving the American people the foreign policy they wanted—and they didn’t much like it. Overseas events have only deepened public concern. A Pew Research Center survey released Aug. 28 found that only 35% of people approve of the president’s handling of the crises in Iraq and Ukraine. Only 15% think we play a more important and powerful role in the world than we did a decade ago, compared with 48% who think our role is less important. And 65% believe that we live in a world more dangerous than it was a few years ago.
The Pew study also finds compelling evidence that Americans are beginning to change their minds about what they want. The share of those who think the U.S. does too much in the world has fallen to only 39% today, from 51% in November, while the share who thinks it does too little has nearly doubled, to 31% from 17%. In the early months of the Obama presidency, only 38% thought the president was “not tough enough” on national security; today, 54% believe that—a figure that includes more than one third of all Democrats. Continue reading
by Rich Lowry • Politico Magazine
What this means, he hasn’t spelled out in great specificity. Presumably fewer beheadings. A slower pace of Western recruiting. Fewer genocidal threats against embattled minorities. A downgrading of the caliphate to a mini-state, or merely a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.
The evil of ISIL has stirred nearly everyone around President Obama to ringing statements of resolve. Vice President Joe Biden says, “We will follow them to the gates of hell.” Secretary of State John Kerry tweets, “ISIL must be destroyed/will be crushed.” Continue reading
by Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi
The plight of Iraq is a true political disaster and a real human catastrophe. The fatal error of all parties involved in the the ongoing saga of Iraq since World War I had been twofold: lack of appreciation for the complex challenges rooted in the difficult conflicts and tensions among contradictory ideas, forces and situations, and ignorance for what is beyond the political, military, economic and moral powers of men and states. Moreover, no attention at all had been paid to the moral condition of the people, the political and religious leaders, and the dysfunctional nation. Finally, the existence of an almost total disconnect between the past and present, and the future of Iraq as a nation-state had resulted in a political vacuum that had enabled ruthless individuals and groups to violate repeatedly the relative stability of the status quo with impunity. Continue reading