Photo: (John Grummitt/Dreamstime.com
Recently, the Trump administration made news by breaking with fifty years of U.S. policy and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
The Golan Heights, of course, is mountainous territory that Israel conquered in a defensive war from Syria back in 1967. Israel extended Israeli law to the area in 1980, thereby annexing it.
Periodically, those in the peace process camp would propose that Israel trade the Golan for peace with the Assad regime. Luckily, Israel never did so; otherwise, today the Islamic Republic of Iran would be stationing its men and missiles on the Heights, and threatening not just Israel, but Jordan as well. But even though the U.S. had a national interest in keeping the Israelis in the Golan, it took President Trump, with his willingness to go against the conventional wisdom, to recognize the reality of the situation, and stop being afraid of the (supposedly) explosive “Arab Street.”
Recognizing reality is a good thing. And we need a whole lot more of it, when it comes to the Middle East. All too often, foreign policy makers in the U.S. get stuck in the past, and refuse to reevaluate policies that have long since become moot or counterproductive.
Here is one example: in 2005, after the (likely) Hezbollah orchestrated assassination of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri, the people of that nation — including most religious groups in Lebanon, with the possible exception of the Shia community — went to the streets to protest the continuing occupation of Lebanon by Syria, and to demand more democracy. As a result, Syrian troops were pulled out, and eventually, Saad Hariri, Rafik’s son, became Prime Minister. Hezbollah, the terrorist militia that Iran had established in Lebanon, which was aligned with the Syrians, was weakened considerably.
In 2006, to build on these positive developments, the U.S. began supplying military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
U.S. policy makers hoped that this aid, which over the years has included Hellfire missiles, A 29 Super Tocano aircraft, and M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, would help to make the LAF a powerful counterbalance to Hezbollah. This should not be surprising, as Hezbollah is a bitter enemy of the U.S., having more American blood on its hands than any other terror group excepting al-Qaeda.
In the end, however, the LAF proved to be no match for Hezbollah.
Today, Hezbollah basically controls the Lebanese nation, and the LAF has essentially become an “auxiliary” of the terror militia. The cooperation between Hezbollah and the LAF has become so close that the two sometimes patrol the same villages together, share uniforms and equipment, and conduct joint military operations.
But the U.S. continues to provide military aid to the LAF, a total of $1.7 billion so far.
If Hezbollah goes to war against Israel, as Hezbollah often threatens to do, it is likely that U.S. military equipment will be used by that terror organization against our strongest democratic ally in the Middle East. Needless to say, this is not in line with the United States’ national interest.
Here is another example; prior to the 2000’s, Turkey was a strong NATO partner of the U.S. But beginning in 2003, when (now) President Recep Erdogan first gained power, that nation slowly began to turn against the U.S., and against the West and democracy itself.
In 2003, Turkey refused to allow the U.S. to use the Incirlik military in the invasion of Iraq.
Since then, Turkey has violated international oil sanctions on Iran, allowed men and supplies to flow through Turkey to reinforce the Islamic State, and now threatens to buy the S-400 missile system from Russia. Plus, Turkey continues to attack U.S. allies in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces, because the SDF started as a Kurdish militia, and Erdogan hates and fears the Kurds. Turkey also routinely threatens other U.S. allies, like Greece and Israel. Turkey has even grabbed American hostages.
Yet many in the U.S. government continue to pretend Turkey is still a trusted ally of the U.S. Both President Trump, and former President Obama, have relied on President Erdogan’s advice when formulating U.S. foreign policy. Reportedly, Erdogan was able to persuade President Trump to call for the removal of all the U.S. troops from Syria, which would have given Turkey the opportunity to invade and crush the SDF. Fortunately, President Trump reconsidered his decision.
Had this troop removal taken place, it would have been a huge mistake by the U.S. The U.S. had gone to great trouble to persuade the SDF to be the ground forces against the Islamic State in Raqqa and elsewhere in Syria. If, after the completion of that war against the physical caliphate (but with ISIS still a threat), the U.S. then abandoned the SDF to the Turks, the word would have gone out that the U.S. was not a loyal ally. Further, unlike in Afghanistan or Iraq, there was little pressure on the administration to remove these troops, as there have been few casualties since they were sent to Syria in 2014. Finally, by keeping the U.S. troops there, other enemy nations like Iran, Russia, and the Assad forces are blocked from expanding their areas of control in Syria.
The U.S. needs to recognize the reality of Lebanon and Turkey. At this time, both nations are led by enemies of the United States. President Trump needs to act accordingly.Read More →
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri recently shocked the international community by announcing his resignation. Hariri, a Sunni political leader, made this announcement from Saudi Arabia, where some speculate that he is being held under house arrest, while others believe he is there on his own accord because he fears for his very life. These fears are not unfounded. In 2005, his father, Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, was assassinated by a car bomb that is believed to have been planted by Hezbollah.
The Middle East is a mysterious region where suspicion hangs heavily in the air—under normal conditions. But the entire region, as of late, is mired in extraordinary circumstances. Since the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015, Iran has been vastly emboldened, empowered and enriched. The Iranians have been on the march throughout the region, sowing acts of aggression in Sana’a, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. They are attempting to establish a Shi’a crescent stretching from Tehran throughout the Middle East.
Lebanon has become a puppet state of Iran, and the Lebanese Armed Forces has now become dominated by Hezbollah. An important fact that many people do not know is that we still have a line item in the U.S. Defense Appropriations budget for $100 million towards Lebanon’s military.
There is no doubt that under today’s circumstances, that earmark falls, whether directly or indirectly, into the hands of Hezbollah. Unless and until Lebanon could rid itself of the presence of Hezbollah, American taxpayers’ dollars will be going into the hands of an organization that has been listed by our own State Department as a terrorist group.
Saad Harari knows how to read the tea leaves. The same week of his surprise announcement, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen launched a missile that had been aimed to land at King Khalid National Airport near the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The missile was intercepted by Saudi-owned U.S. Patriot batteries.
Nov. 4, meanwhile, marked the most aggressive Saudi shakedown in recent memory. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, 32, purged the government of 11 members of the Saudi royal family and other business elites—in what he described as a “corruption crackdown,” but which may well be a rouse to consolidate his power and quash his political rivals, many of whom are in his own family. As Reuters reported, the Riyadh Ritz Carlton has been turned into a temporary—albeit luxurious—prison.
Adding to the intrigue, a day after the crown prince announced his palace purge, a helicopter carrying Prince Mansour bin Muqrin mysteriously crashed, killing a potential rival to the crown prince’s power.
The aggressive and ambitious young Saudi prince is not taking Iranian aggression in the region lightly. Saudi Arabia has urged its citizens to leave Lebanon. This sends a somewhat ominous message. In fact, on Nov. 6, Saudi Arabia’s minister of Gulf affairs wrote that Lebanon “has declared war on Riyadh.”
Some feel that this might be an indicator of a new war emerging between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims—the latest chapter in a 14-century-old dispute as to who will carry the mantle of Islam. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are experts at fighting proxy wars on someone else’s soil. As a joke that is making its rounds around Beirut goes, “The Saudis are willing to fight the Iranians, down to the very last Lebanese.”
In the meantime, there are at least 100,000 missiles staring down Israel from the Jewish state’s north. On Nov. 11, the Israeli Air Force intercepted a drone that fell on the demilitarized zone just north of the Golan Heights. A day earlier, the BBC reported that Iran has established a new military base just south of Damascus.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated unequivocally last Saturday, “We will not allow the establishment of a Shi’ite axis in Syria as an operating base.”
Watch this space. In the Middle East, one cannot play checkers or chess. The game is three-dimensional chess, where the loss of a pawn on one board affects the positioning of the knights, queens and kings on two other boards.
Originally published at JNS.org.
Photo credit: State Department
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