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When a new administration enters office, one naturally wants to give them a “honeymoon period,” and let them assume their positions and know where their desk is located, before one should criticize.

(February 18, 2021)

We know that each new President enters office feeling that his predecessor made colossal mistakes, and only he and his trusted advisors have the infinite wisdom to repair the damage. Having said that, it would be wise for the new administration to look at what is in the best interests of the United States and her allies, rather than just ride along on a “Reverse Trump Course.”

Speaking of allies, in his first few weeks, President Biden has found the time to call the Prime Minister President Xi Jinping of China, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and Mexican Leader Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Yet, somehow, he did not find the time  until  today, almost a full month into his tenure to call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. When asked at a Press Conference if the President considers Saudi Arabia and Israel to be “important” American allies, White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki gave an ambiguous, incoherent non-answer, “Well, you know, again, I think we – there are ongoing processes and internal interagency processes –  one that we, I think, confirmed an interagency meeting just last week – to discuss a range of issues in the Middle East.”

President Trump is so completely reviled within many democratic circles so that any relationship he had, particularly as close a relationship as the one he had with Prime Minister Netanyahu, risks the possibility that the present administration will regard the relationship as radioactive, and they are inclined to go in the exact opposite direction.

If this is the case, this can only be described as juvenile and simplistic thinking, and will not serve U.S. interests in the long run. Whether or not many in the democratic party would like to admit it, in the eyes of America’s enemies, particularly in the Middle East, America and Israel are wedded at the hip. Israel is simply the eastern outpost of the Western, democratic values they despise.

Another such decision was to undo the sanctions on the Houthis. As we immediately saw, this did not prevent the Houthis from terrorizing Saudis or Yeminis. The very afternoon the sanctions were lifted the Houthis celebrated by firing a missile into a Saudi civilian airplane at Abha International Airport.

Everyone acknowledges that what happened to Jamal Khashoggi was horrific, yet that does not ibso facto mean that the Iranians are suddenly angels and do not have a huge amount of innocent blood on their hands. The Middle East is a very tough neighborhood, and no-one there wears a halo.

The Iranian record of human riots is a particularly grim one, where human rights activists are routinely rounded up, arrested, tortured, and often executed. Just ask Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian female lawyer who was thrown into prison for 38 years and given 148 lashes, simply for representing women who refused to wear a headscarf.

Is lifting the sanctions on the Houthis some token gesture that the Biden administration is making to Iran to get them to the negotiating table? Biden should know how potentially dangerous this is, and that this will serve to empower a whole range of Iranian proxy groups, such as the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hamas, among others.

They should also know that in the game of “chicken” that Iran is currently playing with the United States, nothing will get them to the negotiating table, short of lifting all of their sanctions. 

And the U.S. should never do that, out front, because that is precisely what the Iranians ultimately want, and by lifting those sanctions we would be giving away all of our leverage.

The fact is that Trump had boxed in Iran with his strong sanctions policy. Despite their bravado, Hezbollah has suffered a severe loss of income and fighters had begun to complain about severe pay cuts.

It was equally disturbing that Secretary of State Tony Blinken qualified the Biden administration’s feelings towards US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, acknowledging that, “the Golan is very important to Israel’s security,” but adding, “Legal questions are something else. And over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we’d look at. But we are nowhere near as that (sic.)”

This implies that the status of the tremendously valuable strategic high ground of the Golan Heights might be up for review by this administration. The Trump administration had previously given a solemn commitment to US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.  

What does that say about the nature of US commitments? How will our word be regarded in the community of nations?

Similarly, the United Arab Emirates had been promised F-35’s as part of the normalization deal with Israel. It is something that took the Israelis by surprise, and about which they were not comfortable with at first. The consensus in Israel  was, however, that this is something they felt they could live with, because peace with the Emirates was so highly important.  Yet, now they are re-evaluating this commitment to the Emirates.

Is this their way of downplaying the historically  important peace deals with the Emirates, the Bahrainheis the Moroccans and the Sudanese and elevating the status of the Palestinians? We know that it has been a part of the stale, conventional thinking of the State Department for decades prior to the Trump administration, that all peace in the Middle East must runthrough Ramallah.

However, we are just beginning to see the fruits of these nascent peace deals. By elevating the role of the Palestinians, we have placed much too much agency on their shoulders. We understand that after 28 years of peacemaking with the Palestinians, that if they cannot get their ideal “wish list”, they simply walk away from the table, and incite a renewed intifada.

Why should all of the Sunni world be hamstrung by the intransigence of the Palestinians?

There is a great deal more that has happened within this first month in office, that is troublesome to members of the pro-Israel community, including overlooking the Taylor Force Act, which is a federal law. The Taylor Force Act says we must deduct the revenue coming from the U.S. to the Palestinian’s “martyrs’ fund” and “prisoners’ pensions fund,” which incentivizes the Palestinian murder of Israeli civilians. As of 2018 that revenue amounted to $350 million per year.

There are many other gestures that signal in which direction the administration is headed, including the restoration of aid to UNRWA. As opposed to other refugee relief agencies, UNRWA’s mission is not to help ensure that the refugees are settled into their host countries and provided with employment. UNRWA, rather, feeds the unrealistic dream that the Palestinian refugees will return to their great grandfathers’ orchards and vineyards in Haifa, thus perpetuating the 1948 conflict and giving the Palestinian population a perpetual state of victimhood.

All of this boils down to an issue of the creation or of the erosion of trust. Trust is the essential ingredient in any relationship, whether it be a friendship, a marriage, or relationship between nations. 

Trust is particularly essential for the relationship between the United States and Israel at this precise moment. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has said that it is a matter of weeks before Iran reaches “nuclear breakout,” (i.e., where there is enough highly enriched uranium for at least one nuclear bomb). The Israelis have said it is a matter of months, and that the time it takes to develop a delivery mechanism and nuclear warhead, might possibly take one to, at most, two years.   

In either case, IDF Chief Aviv Kochavi has instructed his generals to draw up plans for attack. It is a regnant part of Israel’s military philosophy that they depend on no-one but themselves for their survival, and the Iranian nuclear project is an existential issue for Israel.

If the new administration, through its first month of snubbing Israel and feeding into the wildest fantasies of her enemies, sees as part of its objective, making Israel feel alone and isolated in the community of nations, this is certainly unwise. We know that the United States will not take kindly to a surprise Israeli attack just as they are in the midst of negotiations with the Iranians. 

But then, of course, they could blame the breakdown of negotiations on the Israelis, and drive a further wedge between Israel and the community of nations. One certainly hopes that that is not their objective. 

As Sir Winton Churchill said, “He who appeases the crocodile is only eaten last.” 

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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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