By Displaying Weakness, the U.S. Undermines Its Negotiating Position with Iran

June 15 2021

In May, two Iranian naval ships rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the southern Atlantic, likely heading toward Venezuela or Cuba—the Islamic Republic’s key allies in the Western hemisphere. As one of the vessels appears to be carrying military craft, and there is reason to suspect they carry other armaments as well, Washington has warned the two Latin American countries not to allow the ships to dock. Emanuele Ottolenghi explains what’s at stake:

Because it thinks Washington will not push back, Iran is trying to provoke the United States in its own backyard, even at a time when the two sides appear close to a deal in Vienna to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord. . . . The Biden administration has done everything in its power to make Iran think the U.S. is in retreat. It has done so in the hope of mollifying Iran and persuading it to negotiate. . . . And so the new administration has dusted off the old policy playbook from the Obama administration.

Within weeks of taking office, the president authorized the unfreezing of billions of dollars of Iranian oil money that sanctions had blocked in Iraq and South Korea. This move eased the financial squeeze Iran was feeling—its oil sales in 2020 had all but collapsed—and gave it breathing space even before it made any concessions.

The Biden administration [likewise] chose to react to multiple Iranian attacks through Iraqi proxy militias by first downplaying Iran’s role and then by launching only a limited symbolic strike in Syria in response. U.S. diplomats have also declined to press Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog in charge of policing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [to which Tehran is a signatory], despite piling evidence of multiple instances of suspicious, unexplained, and troubling nuclear activity.

But while Washington thinks that the key to détente with Tehran is constraint and concessions, these actions indicate weakness in Tehran’s eyes. A military convoy dispatched to the U.S. backyard is more than a test of seafaring capacity. It is a statement. Iran is provoking the U.S. because it can.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran, Latin America, U.S. Foreign policy

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad