The U.S. Isn’t Involved in the Middle East in Order to Defend Israel, Nor Should It Be

Nov. 30 2018

Speaking to the Washington Post on Tuesday about the importance of maintaining the U.S.-Saudi alliance, President Trump named Israel as “one reason” for an American presence in the Middle East. This is not the first time the administration has made such an assertion. To Herb Keinon, it is a dangerous one:

The last thing Israel wants the average American to think is that U.S. troops in the Middle East are risking their lives—and at times losing them—to protect Israel. Israel has been careful never to ask for U.S. troops to be deployed in the region. It has lobbied Washington long and hard for weapons and funds to buy arms, saying “Give us the wherewithal to defend ourselves.” But it has never asked America to do the actual defending. . . .

Israel’s position is that the U.S. is engaged in the Middle East because it is a U.S. interest to be engaged in the Middle East, since it is vital for U.S, security and for Washington’s strategic position in the world to be involved in this region and keep it from falling into the hands of Islamic radicals—be they Sunni or Shiite. Those radical forces would like nothing more than to see a Mideast without any American presence or influence. . . .

Jerusalem wants to see the U.S. engaged, influential, and active in the region. . . . This sentiment is in no way unique to Israel. Saudi Arabia, the rest of the Persian Gulf countries, Egypt, and Jordan are all fearful of a situation where the U.S. would withdraw within itself. Were that to happen, other actors would fill the vacuum, as was the case in Syria, where in 2015 Russia moved in as the U.S. waffled during the Syrian civil war. And two things are certain if other actors fill the vacuum left by the U.S.: first, those actors will be much less benign; second, they will be much less concerned about Israel’s interests.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Donald Trump, Israel & Zionism, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations

Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela