What Antony Blinken Gets Wrong about the Middle East

Last week, the U.S. secretary of state visited Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority in quick succession. Secretary Antony Blinken’s agenda, Yoram Ettinger argues, highlighted his misplaced priorities in the region. Above all, writes Ettinger, Blinken has ignored the fact that Washington must choose between “pro-U.S. human rights-violating Arab regimes [and] anti-U.S. human rights-violating Arab regimes.” Moreover:

Blinken rejects the Israeli suggestion (shared by all pro-U.S. Arab regimes) that a credible threat to resort to regime change and military action is the only way to abort the regional and global threats posed by the Islamic Republic. He still assumes that the apocalyptic ayatollahs can be enticed—via a generous financial and diplomatic package—into good-faith negotiation, peaceful coexistence, and abandoning their fanatical 1,400-year-old religious vision.

Blinken’s policy toward Iran’s ayatollahs and the Muslim Brotherhood—which pose a lethal threat to all Sunni Arab regimes—has eroded U.S. strategic credibility in pro-U.S. Arab capitals, and has pushed Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain—reluctantly—closer to China and Russia, militarily and commercially.

He continues to attempt to convince Israel that the establishment of a Palestinian state is a prerequisite for bolstering Middle East stability and concluding an Israel-Saudi Arabia peace treaty. However, such a proposal should be assessed against the backdrop of the systematic failure of all [previous] State Department proposals to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. . . . In fact, Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan were successfully concluded by bypassing the Palestinian issue, and focusing on Arab—not Palestinian—interests, which are increasingly served by enhanced defense and commercial cooperation with Israel. Arabs do not cut off their noses to spite their faces.

Read more at JNS

More about: Antony Blinken, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy, U.S.-Israel relationship

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy