Iran and the Taliban Are Working Together against the U.S.

A few weeks ago, both Iranian and Taliban officials acknowledged publicly, for the first time, that the two were engaged in talks, and the Iranian foreign minister spoke of the importance of giving the jihadist group a role in governing Afghanistan. These statements, writes Aaron Kliegman, confirm what has long been known:

Iran and the Taliban had a relationship before 9/11 that included arms sales, even as both sides were bitter rivals. Since 9/11, however, Tehran has helped the Taliban in numerous ways, especially in recent years. . . . Iran is using its own military academies to provide hundreds of Taliban fighters with advanced training. . . . Moreover, some high-ranking Taliban leaders even live in Iran.

Iran continues this support while maintaining ties with Kabul, hedging its bets to position itself well for various outcomes inside Afghanistan.

There are many reasons the Islamic Republic supports the Taliban, such as, among others, fighting Islamic State, issues concerning water, and the fact that Afghanistan borders Iran and can pose a threat if unstable. But the most important reason for Washington is that both Iran and the Taliban share an interest in forcing the Americans to leave Afghanistan. Iran is very concerned about American bases in Afghanistan and uses Afghanistan as a way to exert pressure on Washington as needed. If the U.S. wants the war in Afghanistan to end in a peaceful way, it must counter Iran’s support to the Taliban—support that perpetuates the conflict.

Analysts and commentators have made several valid arguments about why an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, even a partial one, would carry serious costs. [One] reason less often discussed is that an American retreat—which is the right word to use—would be a victory for Iran.

Read more at Washington Free Beacon

More about: Afghanistan, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Taliban, U.S. Foreign policy

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood