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A disturbing trend in Washington has manifested most dramatically by the devastating retreat from Afghanistan, in favor of turning away from the pressing problems of the Middle East, to pour all of our energies into the Asia-Pacific theater. The United States is now regarded as a “paper tiger” within the Middle East. This was dramatically illustrated by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s talk during the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations, last week, when he stated, “Sanctions are the United States’ new way of war with the nations of the world.” 

While railing against American sanctions as “crimes against humanity,” the implicit message is that Iran no longer believes there is a credible threat of military force from the United States. This is extremely dangerous and is shaking up the emerging pattern of friendships between the Sunni Gulf states and Israel through the Abraham Accords. 

 The most disturbing new development are the talks between Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as between Turkey and Qatar. The removal of the terrorist designation of the Iranian- backed Houthis in Yemen and our removal of US troops from Saudi Arabia, have cemented the perception that the United States is no longer interested in the Middle East, and will simply abandon the incredibly dangerous developments in the region to change the channel to China. 

This has simply whetted the Iranian appetite; Iran now has the temerity to demand $10 billion in unfrozen assets within the United States just to return to the inherently flawed JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015. So much for the “longer and stronger” deal that both President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised. 

The United States is now being perceived as giving Iran a “free pass” in the region.  And of course, this goes back to what is occurring on Israel’s northern border with the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah. 

The United States has given over $1.8 billion to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which have become overrun by Hezbollah, since 2010 and the Biden administration is now pouring an additional $47 million into it. According to the Fiscal Appropriations Bill of 2020, this funding was appropriated “to professionalize the LAF to mitigate internal and external threats from non-state actors, including Hezbollah.”  This funding is expected to be used to “strengthen border security and combat terrorism, as well as “interdicting arms shipments and preventing the use of Lebanon as a safe haven for terrorist groups.” 

All of this is in keeping with the Taif Accords of 1989 and UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed after the war in Lebanon in 2006, which said that all foreign forces had to leave Lebanon, (read “Hezbollah”).  Israel totally retreated from Lebanon and painted the stones blue, in what is now known as the “blue line.” 

The LAF have not lifted a finger against Hezbollah. Since the 2006 War between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hezbollah has been described as “a militia trained like an army and equipped like a state.” Iran has poured over $1 billion into Hezbollah. It now boasts an arsenal of approximately 150,000 missiles, many of which have been converted into precision guided munitions that can critically damage important Israeli infrastructure. 

Lebanon has sunk deeper and deeper into abject poverty.  82% of its population is living in what the UN calls “multidimensional poverty.”. One Lebanese pound is equal to 0.00066 of a US dollar.  Food, medicine, drinking water and fuel are in very short supply. Lebanon never developed an agrarian economy and most food has had to be imported. With the delays in the rebuilding of the port, hunger is rampant. No one except for Hezbollah warlords can afford meat. The price of fuel is exceedingly high for the average family and electricity is rationed to a few hours a day. Outages can last up to 23 hours a day. 

On September 16th, Hezbollah triumphantly brought a convoy of diesel trucks from Iran that crossed the border via Syria into Lebanon. As they entered into Baalbek, Lebanon, the trucks drove over American and Israeli flags lining the streets, and they were greeted by celebratory blasts of gunfire amidst the throwing of rice and rose petals and jubilant cheers from the crowds.  The BBC quotes a woman exclaiming, “the convoy had broken the ‘siege’ of Lebanon by the US and its allies. Since this fuel is being brought by [Hezbollah’s leader] Sayyed Hassan then it will be delivered to the right place.” 

Yet another victory for the forces of Iran. 

The current US administration is missing in action, showing a grave lack of responsibility toward people in the region. Locals and their leaders have noticed. 

Perhaps the worst example was on September 24th, when over 300 brave dissidents, intellectuals and tribal leaders gathered in Erbil, in the Northeastern Kurdish region of Iraq. They wanted to take their people out of retrograde antisemitism and join the Abraham Accords. The Iraqi government responded by threatening these people with imprisonment, torture and the death penalty.  

Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated September 17th on the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords, “we will encourage more countries to follow the lead of the Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. We want to widen the circle of peaceful diplomacy, because it’s in the interests of countries across the region and around the world for Israel to be treated like any other country. Normalization leads to greater stability, more cooperation, mutual progress – all things the region and the world need very badly right now.” 

These courageous people are now subject to not only the Draconian laws of the Iraqi government, but also to various Shiite militias within Iraq. We have heard absolutely nothing from the White House or human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in defense of these forward-thinking people. Why is there radio silence? 

The United States must find its moral compass once again. Many innocent lives are at stake throughout the region and the world. Otherwise, we are abandoning the region and millions of innocent people to Iran, Russia and China, weakening our allies and ourselves. 

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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