2022 has been a long year in international affairs, starting with the return of war and nuclear threats to Europe and ending with the return of the air of revolution to the streets of Tehran. 2022 brought new economic, military and political challenges and very few, if any, resolutions. While the threat of COVID seems to be finally behind us, the world seems to be more anxious than ever with soaring inflation, an anticipated financial crisis, a prolonged crisis in Ukraine, an increasingly belligerent China, and questions about U.S. foreign policy.
The most significant world event in 2022 was Russia’s war in Ukraine, dominating international news and conversations in Washington and leading to serious consequences in the energy markets and the global economy. In February, Russia launched its “special military operation” with a massive land invasion and bombardment of many Ukrainian cities. The initial attacks showed that Moscow did not anticipate the war to last for long before it was able to achieve its objectives. This faith quickly proved to be misplaced after Ukraine withstood the initial attack and then proceeded to reverse many of the Russian gains. A few months after the attack, the Ukrainians could even launch their counteroffensive, which succeeded in ejecting Russian troops from their locations. The policy of the Biden administration toward Ukraine was the largest success of the U.S. in 2022. It succeeded in rallying NATO allies to support Ukraine and organized massive military assistance, without which Ukraine would not have been able to resist Putin’s invasion. The U.S. Congress made available $65 billion in aid to Ukraine and agreed to provide an additional $38 billion, which the Biden administration asked for in November. The U.S. also helped isolate Russia and Putin’s oligarchs internationally with a complex and heavy sanctions regime that will likely remain in place in the foreseeable future. In Washington, support for Ukraine is nearly unanimous, not just to honor American values but due to the fact that the Russian invasion is seen as specifically an assault on the U.S.-led rule-based order in addition to being the largest security threat to NATO and Europe.
But Russia wasn’t the only superpower challenge the U.S. had to deal with in 2022. The great power competition between the U.S. and China continues to gain steam and create more global tensions. Under the Biden administration, the U.S. officially moved away from its policy of welcoming China into the international community. It recognized that China is working to undo the U.S.-led world order to reshape it anew. On its part, China continued its militarization of the South China Sea, supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and continued to intimidate, leading U.S. intel agencies to estimate that China is planning an invasion within the coming two years. China’s forceful response to Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to Taiwan demonstrated the rising tensions. Two months later, the Biden administration decided to escalate the tensions by denying China access to semiconductor chips which are essential to the current AI race. Yet, both countries continue to attempt to manage their competition in a way that averts a global crisis.
If the U.S. could avoid a major crisis from an unwanted clash with China, it could not avoid the downfall in the energy markets from the Ukraine war. The war sent oil prices to new highs, caused major domestic pressure on the administration throughout 2022, and threatened midterm elections. These pressures forced President Biden to make major reversals of his stands on Saudi Arabia, and its Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, whom he vowed to make a pariah in the international community while on the campaign trail. In July, President Biden visited Riyadh and exchanged an iconic fist pump with the Crown Prince, yet ultimately failed to convince the oil-rich monarchy to increase its oil supply to alleviate the strain in energy markets. Moreover, the Saudi-led OPEC+ announced further cuts to production in November, just weeks before the U.S. midterm elections, a move that Washington viewed as a siding with Moscow.
The primary Saudi grievance with the Biden administration remains the U.S. policy towards Iran, which is seen by many in the Kingdom as a continuation of the Obama policy that sought to win Iran to the U.S. side and make it a partner of regional stability. Both U.S.-Arab allies and Israel rightfully consider this way of thinking, prevalent in the U.S. State Department, to be catastrophic given Iran’s record on regional destabilization and its quest for nuclear weapons. In April last year, the Biden administration started indirect negotiations with the Islamic Republic in Vienna to rejoin the JCPOA nuclear agreement, which slows down but does not prevent, Iranian progress towards weapons-grade uranium. The Biden administration was enthusiastic about the negotiations promising a “longer and stronger” deal. Yet, as 2022 progressed, hopes for a renewed agreement continued to fade, especially as Iranian negotiators introduced new demands that were nonstarters for the U.S., such as delisting the IRGC from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations’ list, forcing the IAEA to shutdown active investigations of Iranian violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and providing American guarantees that the agreement will remain in effect even after the Biden administration leaves office. Non-ironically, the Iranians made these demands as the U.S. Department of Justice uncovered IRGC plots to assassinate former U.S. officials, including former Secretary Pompeo, on U.S. soil. None of this Iranian behavior convinced the Biden administration to give up its diplomatic objective of reaching an agreement with the Ayatollah. Even as the U.S. intelligence community started reporting that Iran was providing Russia with drones and precision-guided munitions for the war in Ukraine, U.S. officials remained committed to diplomacy until the outbreak of the largest protests in Iran since 1979 finally dealt the negotiations what is likely to be the final blow.
Mass protests began in Iran in September 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman who was arrested and tortured by the so-called “morality police” for the immodest head-covering. Amini died in police custody, and her death galvanized the largest protest movement since the Islamic Revolution, lifting slogans of “Woman, life freedom!” The protests led to one of the largest human rights crises in the world today after Iranian forces killed over 500 protestors, arrested nearly 18,000, and are publicly executing dissidents. The unexpected wave of protests that continue to defy government repression led many to speculate that the end of the Islamic Republic might be in sight. This ultimately forced many American officials who were ideologically committed to reaching an agreement with the Ayatollah to give up their efforts to reengage with the Iranians diplomatically and shift their focus to supporting Iranian women. The U.S. led a concerted effort in the UN Human Rights Council that ultimately expelled Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women and continued to increase international pressure on the regime.
The Islamic Republic might be in trouble but is not completely out of tricks. The Iranian nuclear program remains to be the largest threat to Israeli security and regional stability. Advanced centrifuges are still running in underground facilities, enriching uranium faster. The IAEA, now completely shut out of Iran and without any means to monitor Iranian nuclear activity, estimates the Iranians now have accumulated over 60 kilos of highly enriched uranium sufficient for a bomb if they decide to produce one. This amount, currently enriched at the 60% level, can be easily enriched to the 90% level needed for weaponization with Iranians’ current capabilities. In 2022, the Russia-Iran relationship reached new heights as the war in Ukraine helped it become a close defense pact and a joint axis of deep strategic ties against the U.S. On its part, Russia is now offering Iran an advanced military assistance package, which includes air defense systems, advanced fighter jets, and helicopters. As the Iranian plan to set up a drone assembly line in Russia, the Russians are planning to train Iranian pilots to operate the Su-35 fighter jets. Another worry is that Iran, already possessing the S-300 missile defense system, will obtain the new S-400 system to bolster Iranian defenses against Israeli or American air operations. In addition, Israeli officials recently revealed that Iranian officials have traveled to Russia to discuss the potential for naval cooperation. They handed the Russians two requests to buy Russian warships and design more naval capabilities that fit Iran’s operational requirements.
In the Middle East, regional efforts to find a new modus vivendi to reverse the web of conflictual relations which plagued the region for over a decade continued. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, witnessing a second consecutive year of major economic growth driven by high energy prices, are leading the efforts to reorganize regional relations in a way commensurate with their long-term development plans. Rulers of both countries opened the way toward regional dialogue with Turkey after they separately met with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of the main sponsors of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose country is going through serious economic difficulties. Erdogan also made the news by meeting his main Arab foe, Egyptian President Abdul-Fatah al-Sisi, and Israel’s President and Prime Minister. Israel has already reinstated its ambassador to Ankara. However, Erdogan still has a long way to go before restoring any semblance of a normal relationship with Egypt. The Emir of Qatar also made the rounds before and during the World Cup, meeting with the Egyptian President, the Saudi Crown Prince, and the UAE’s President. It is unclear what such meetings will eventually yield, given continued Qatari support to the regional forces of chaos and terrorism, and if Saudi Arabia and the UAE have any serious hope to dissuade Qatar from its unilateral and hostile agenda.
While the new relations with the Abraham Accords’ countries only grew in strength; for Israel, 2022 proved to be a challenging year with a wave of Palestinian terrorism that is the most severe in years and marking the highest number of casualties of terrorist attacks since 2008. The deadly wave of terrorist attacks started back in March with a series of shootings, stabbings, and car rammings deep inside Israel. IDF forces were busy entering Palestinian towns and engaging with various terrorist cells. In one of their engagements in Jenin, Palestinian American Aljazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in what is now widely believed to be an accident. The death of Abu Akleh became a major instrument in the unending international diplomatic and public opinion war against Israel. Qatar and various Western progressive groups turned the unfortunate death of Abu Akleh into Israel’s Khashoggi and turned into an international campaign of defamation against Israel. This well-funded Qatari-Progressive campaign convinced the U.S. Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation, a step that the Israeli government rightfully denounced.
It is impossible to speculate what 2023 will bring. Still, there are many signs that the current trajectory of the U.S. foreign policy that emboldened America’s enemies and disheartened her friends will only continue. The Russian-Ukraine war evolved into a battle for Russian survival and is not likely to end anytime soon. The Islamic Republic might be struggling at the moment. Still, it is unclear if the current wave of protests will ultimately end the Ayatollah’s regime and help create a new Iranian political class. Most importantly, it remains to be seen how the West will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, a more pressing threat by the day. However, there is one thing of which I’m certain, EMET will still be here, going to Capitol Hill every day to support Israel, the Jewish people, and American interests. We at EMET can not know the next play planned by the Qatari-Progressive anti-Israel campaign or by the pro-Iranian lobby in Washington, but we know that we will always be there to help American legislators and decision-makers to bring the truth to light.
Requiem for a Descending Star
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