Is Donald Trump Following in Barack Obama’s Footsteps in the Middle East?

March 20 2017

Looking past the various rumors, conspiracy theories, and scandals swirling around the Trump administration, Lee Smith notes that many stalwarts of the previous White House are still shaping policies toward Iran, Syria, and Israel—suggesting a surprising measure of continuity:

After excoriating Barack Obama’s foreign policy, including his realignment in the Middle East, President Trump has yet to nominate any officials below the cabinet level at the State Department or the Pentagon, which means there is no one to formulate Trump’s own foreign policy, never mind implement it. To fill the growing vacuum, . . . the Trump White House is now handing over key foreign-policy positions to Obama administration [officials] who handled the very same portfolios under the previous president. . . .

Yael Lempert, a National Security Council (NSC) staffer from the Obama administration that the Trump team decided to keep on, [was] in Jerusalem [last] week with the White House’s special representative for international negotiations, longtime Trump lawyer Jason Greenblatt. Lempert, one former Clinton official told me, “is considered one of the harshest critics of Israel on the foreign-policy far left. From her position on the Obama NSC, she helped manufacture crisis after crisis in a relentless effort to portray Israel negatively and diminish the breadth and depth of our alliance.” . . .

Trump is showing the same disregard for his big promises when it comes to . . . Islamic State (IS), which he firmly swore to demolish. To make good on that promise, the Trump team has selected Brett McGurk—the same Brett McGurk who served as the Obama administration’s special envoy to lead the campaign against IS. One of the main reasons Obama’s IS policy failed was because Sunnis refused to engage in an intramural civil war whose spoils would go to the Iranians and their Shiite allies. McGurk was the point man on this pro-Iran policy, famously arranging for Iran to get $400 million in cash delivered on wooden pallets to the [Islamic Republic] in exchange for American hostages.

Remember when the Trump administration promised to make public the secret agreements that Obama made with Iran? McGurk signed some of the secret documents, relieving sanctions on a key financial hub of Iran’s ballistic-missile program, and dropping charges against 21 Iranian operatives linked to terrorism. Notably, none of those documents has been made public. Maybe that’s because McGurk’s name is on them, or maybe it’s because the former National Iranian American Council staffer Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, Obama’s NSC director for Iran, is now on the policy-planning staff in Trump’s State Department.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Iran, Israel, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy

How Israel Should Approach Syria in the Wake of the U.S. Airstrikes

April 27 2017

Nearly three weeks after a U.S. attack on a Syrian airbase, it remains unclear if Washington will start working actively against the Assad regime or simply enforce red lines. Ilan Goldenberg argues that in either case Israel should stick to the strategy it has been pursuing all along—one that will only be helped by greater American involvement:

The good news is that much of the area of southern Syria is now controlled by a group of moderate Sunni forces known as the Southern Front. This group is an alliance of smaller local militias that has been supported by the United States and Jordan with some quiet support from Israel. As a result, southern Syria has become one of the most stable areas in the country, resulting in a default buffer zone that protects both Israel and Jordan. The key for Israel will be to ensure that in any final resolution of the Syrian conflict or change in Trump administration policy, the Southern Front remains in place. . . .

[Another] central objective for Israel will be to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons in Syria that could get into the hands of extremists who may launch attacks on Israeli civilians. At the start of the Syria conflict this was the foremost Israeli priority. . . . The priority Israel places on this issue also explains why the Israeli minister of defense, Avigdor Liberman, came out so strongly in support of the military strikes against the Assad regime, drawing a sharp rebuke from Vladimir Putin. In most instances, Israel has tried to avoid antagonizing Russia or getting in the middle of U.S-Russian competition, but on this particular matter it is highly invested in the American position.

Finally, Israel . . . has a broader overarching objective of trying to limit Iranian influence in Syria. . . . Iranian-supported militias and operatives of the Qods Force [Iran’s elite expeditionary troops] are deeply enmeshed inside the Syrian regime at this point, and Israel likely recognizes that. Iran will continue to have influence in Syria and be able to use its allies in Damascus to supply and strengthen Hizballah. All Israel can do is push for American policies that limit Tehran’s influence in Syria to the largest extent possible, while recognizing the reality of the situation on the ground.

Read more at Matzav

More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy