America’s Disingenuous Criticism of Its Middle Eastern Allies

April 1 2022

Earlier this month, the State Department declared that it was “profoundly disappointed and troubled” by the United Arab Emirates’ decision to invite the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad—Iran’s closest ally—for an official visit. Shortly thereafter, when Qatar hosted Iranian military officers at an arms exhibition, the State Department again announced that it was “deeply disappointed and troubled.” Michael Doran argues that such condemnations would be deserved, if Washington weren’t guilty of even worse:

If it had been sincere, then the Biden administration would be deeply or even profoundly disappointed and troubled by its own behavior, starting with its reported willingness to consider removing [Iran’s] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. “We are very concerned about the United States’ intention to give in to Iran’s outrageous demand and remove the IRGC from the list of terrorist organizations,” the Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett said at a recent cabinet meeting.

Bennett had good reason to be outraged, but the willingness to consider de-listing the IRGC is not the main reason why. The Israelis are witnessing a region-wide shift in the balance of power in favor of Iran—a shift of which the Emirati and Qatari embrace of Iran and Syria is part. The cause of the shift is the decision of the Biden administration to return to the Iran nuclear deal. Not only does the deal put an international stamp of approval on Iran’s military nuclear program, but it also channels tens of billions of dollars to Iran’s coffers in the short term, hundreds of billions over the next decade. The IRGC’s power will increase exponentially, and the Assad regime will benefit substantially from its success.

As if to drive the point home, the American military has remained largely supine over the last year as Iran has repeatedly used its proxies or its own forces to subject Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, and Iraq to attacks from drones and ballistic missiles. On at least one occasion, an Iranian-backed group in Iraq conducted a direct attack on American forces—in al-Tanf, Syria. These provocations neither triggered a meaningful American military countermeasure nor prompted the White House to consider breaking off the negotiations in Vienna.

Consequently, the deterrent power of the United States eroded significantly. . . . If the White House truly expects the allies to take a harder line, it must start by taking a harder line itself.

Read more at Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East

More about: Iran, Middle East, Naftali Bennett, U.S. Foreign policy, United Arab Emirates


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