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American Policy Would Benefit from Keeping in Mind Who in the Middle East Blesses the U.S., and Who Curses It

Jan. 25 2018

On Monday, Vice-President Mike Pence addressed the Knesset, where he spoke enthusiastically about the U.S.-Israel relationship and the two countries’ shared biblical heritage. Yoram Hazony contrasts the mutual expressions of friendship between the American vice-president and Israeli politicians with the bitter recent speech by Mahmoud Abbas to the assembled leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), where the PA president expounded various anti-Semitic and anti-Western conspiracy theories and cursed the American president:

I have been following the speeches of the PLO and its supporters in the Arab world for 30 years. Nothing [in Abbas’s speech] is new. These are the same things that Yasir Arafat, Abbas, and the mainline PLO leadership have always believed. It is a worldview that reflects an abiding hatred for the West, blaming Christians and Jews not only for the founding of Israel but for every calamity that has befallen the Muslim and Arab world for centuries. . . .

[In contrast to] the curses that Abbas called down on President Trump’s house, the Israelis responded [to Vice-President Pence’s speech] by blessing him: Netanyahu told Pence it is “our deepest hope that President Trump and you will succeed in strengthening the United States, . . . so that America will continue to be the greatest power in the world for generations to come.” And [Speaker of the Knesset Yuli] Edelstein said that from Israel he would only hear the blessing b’neh beitkha (“may your house be built up”).

For long decades, Washington has crafted policies based on the tacit assumption that America needs the PLO if it is to bring peace to the Middle East. In its effort to “balance” the demands of this extremist organization against Israel’s concerns, American policy inflated the PLO’s importance, and learned to tolerate and even embrace an organization whose views have always been profoundly anti-Western, not to mention anti-Semitic. Meanwhile, the biblical roots of America’s alliance with Israel have been consistently downplayed for fear that mentioning them would upset Arab sensibilities. Even so elementary a move as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or cutting funding to chronically anti-Western and anti-Semitic organizations, became unthinkable.

These policies did not bring peace to the Middle East. But they did sever the ties between American diplomacy in the region and common sense—to the point that more than a few U.S. officials ended up believing that not only the PLO, but even Iran, whose parliament regularly curses the United States, could be made a peace partner if it were paid handsomely enough. The Trump administration, [by contrast], appears to have good grasp of a principle that is underrated but nonetheless quite useful in making sound policy: in the relations between nations, it matters who blesses you and who curses you.

Read more at National Review

More about: Donald Trump, Israel & Zionism, Mike Pence, PLO, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen