Thursday, March 03, 2022

Weekly column by Vic Rosenthal

While our attention here in Israel is on Ukraine, the US and Iran are preparing to come to some kind of nuclear agreement. Or not. I’ve been wrong about a number of things lately – I never thought Putin would do more than lop off the Donbas region from Ukraine – and I might be wrong about this too, but the Biden Administration’s desire to have something to brag about seems strong enough to swallow anything the Iranians throw at them at the last minute.

Any deal will have minimal effect on Iran’s ability to make and deploy nuclear weapons. What the signing will do is provide an immediate financial boost to Iran, which can be used both for its nuclear project and the support of its terrorist partners in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq; and it will place Israel in the position of the “rogue” that violates international order if she attacks Iran.

And if there is no deal? I presume that some sanctions would remain for some time. But they will not have any material effect on Iran’s project.

Incidentally, the effect that serious sanctions and actions to isolate a bad actor can have are evident in Russia, whose economy has already been severely wounded by even a few days of economic warfare by the West. It’s a pity that similarly harsh measures were never taken against Iran.

I think there will be a deal, because both sides want it: the Iranians, because they will give up little or nothing, and receive a lot. And the Biden Administration, because appeasing Iran is part of its long-term Middle East policy. Let’s look at that.

Prior to 1973, US policy was not particularly friendly to Israel, primarily because of competition with the Soviet Union for influence with the oil-rich Arab countries. But during the Yom Kippur War, President Nixon, worried that the Soviet-aligned Arabs might win – or that Israel might use her nuclear weapons – airlifted weapons to Israel and then asked Congress to provide billions in aid to pay for them. In response, the Arab-led oil cartel, OPEC, declared an embargo on oil deliveries to countries that supported Israel, including the US. The embargo was only in effect for five months, but caused a huge spike in the price of oil whose shock waves affected almost every part of the world economy. Many countries whose Mideast policy had been neutral or pro-Israel began to tilt toward the Arabs as a result. In the US, oil companies took a public stance calling for a more “even-handed” (i.e., less pro-Israel) policy.

In an attempt to woo them away from the Soviets, Nixon and Kissinger promised Arab leaders in 1974-5 that they would work to “reduce [Israel’s] size to historic [pre-1967] proportions.” This has been US policy ever since. Beginning with Jimmy Carter’s Camp David Accords that gave the Sinai back to Egypt, there have been numerous American-led initiatives to do just that.

Presidents Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, GW Bush, and Trump all thought that the solution to the conflict between Israel and the Arabs lay in a territorial compromise with some kind of Palestinian entity. And all of them understood that Israel’s security had to be preserved. But Barack Obama was different.

Obama was the second American president, after Jimmy Carter, who was clearly anti-Israel. His sympathy with the Palestinian movement was clear from remarks that he made when he was running for the Senate back in 2003, from the speech he made in Cairo shortly after he took office, in which he compared “Palestinian [suffering] in pursuit of a homeland” to the Holocaust, and to the pain and humiliation of slavery and segregation felt by black Americans.

Obama often claimed to support the Jewish state, and pointed to the 10-year commitment his administration made to a $38bn program of military aid. But the money is spent in America, where it buys the most expensive weapons in the world, developed on a cost-plus basis. Obama eliminated the provision that allowed some of the aid to be spent on purchases from Israel’s own defense industries. The aid program serves America’s interests and damages Israel’s. It addicts Israel to expensive American weapons, weakens Israel’s defense industries, and gives the US too much leverage over Israel’s actions.  Israel would be better off without it.

A list of all of Obama’s actions that were damaging to Israel would stretch from January 2009, when he ordered Israel to end its ground invasion of Gaza before inauguration day, to his final spiteful act as a lame duck president, when he ordered his UN ambassador to abstain on the anti-Israel UNSC resolution 2334 (the last time this happened was during Carter’s presidency). His contemptuous treatment of Israel’s then Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – he instructed an aide to refer to the former combat soldier as “a chickenshit” to a reporter – tells us everything about his attitude.

But the most dangerous initiative of his administration was, of course, the JCPOA, the original Iran deal of 2015. At the time it was clear that it did not prevent, or even significantly slow, Iran’s progress. It couldn’t be enforced. It weakened a UN resolution forbidding Iran from developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. And it actually legitimized Iran’s having nuclear weapons after a few years. We should remember that under the non-proliferation treaty that Iran signed, it agreed to never develop such weapons.

It’s hard to see what American interest the deal served then, and even harder now. It will give Biden something to brag about, and it will be yet another shot at former president Trump. But where is the benefit from increased funding for terrorism, strengthening America’s greatest enemy in the Mideast, and beginning a round of nuclear proliferation in the volatile region? Where is the benefit for the US and the rest of the West from enabling the establishment of an Iranian caliphate in the region?

This is just one of the administration’s actions that are difficult to understand. Recently, it effectively killed a proposed natural gas pipeline from Israel to Europe through Cyprus and Greece. Now, with Russia threatening to cut gas supplies to Europe, this looks even more stupid.

Last month, the US cut military aid to Egypt by some $130m out of $300m. The stated reason is that they are not satisfied with al-Sisi’s plan to improve the human rights situation in Egypt. At the same time, the Iran deal will free up billions which Iran can use to continue supporting terrorist groups targeting Egypt. In case you’ve forgotten, Obama supported Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi over Mubarak.

Shortly after taking office, the administration removed the Yemenite Houthi rebels from the list of terrorist organizations. On the same day, they attacked a Saudi airport.

Why? The answer is that the Biden Administration is Obama’s third term. Its foreign policy team, and especially those responsible for negotiations with Iran, are made up almost entirely of former Obama Administration people. Although I can’t prove it, I believe that Obama, Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice, and others are pulling the strings.

And these people share a bizarre ideology. They see the world through a lens that combines leftism, Islamism, and a naïve third-worldism. They see Islamism as the most authentic political movement in the Middle East, and so they support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as Iranian control of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Among their goals are the replacement of Israel – which they see as an outpost of Western colonialism – by a Palestinian state. I believe they see the possibility of a strong, modernizing Israeli-Egyptian-Saudi bloc as dangerous to Islam, and will try to prevent it from arising.

Try as I might, I can’t see how this fits in with American interests.

Read all about it here!


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