But it hardly does justice to the situation to say that what we are facing is not a pretty picture.
What I want to touch upon today are some of the situations we are confronting that, if truth be told, tend to generate nightmares.
Let us begin with a perspective paper from the BESA Center, “Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy: A Preliminary Assessment,” by Dr. Alex Joffe.
“EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Biden administration’s foreign policy is rapidly coming into view. Despite rhetoric designed to mollify Middle Eastern allies, the trajectory of decisions clearly favors a return to the Obama policy of elevating Iran at the expense of Israel and Sunni states. More broadly, key moves weaken the US stance against China while ensuring domestic turmoil. American allies will have to adjust to a period of American weakness and possibly even betrayal.” (Emphasis in original)
“It is customary to give new US administrations a grace period before assessing their policies, but no administration in modern history has changed so much so fast. Literally dozens of executive orders signed by President Joe Biden have dramatically reversed the course of American foreign policy in a matter of days. The implications are potentially momentous, especially in the Middle East. (Emphasis added here and below,)
“Many predicted that a Biden administration would see a revival of Obama-era policies. This was more true than anyone could have imagined. With stunning speed, Biden has set about dismantling the legacy of the Trump administration across the board, including in foreign policy.”
And I stop here to confess that one of the nightmares I have is with regard to the fact that many don’t even realize what’s coming.
To see what Biden is dismantling with undo haste, let’s look at another perspective paper from the BESA Center, “Donald Trump’s Revolutionary Foreign Policy,” by Rauf Baker.
“EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Former US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy legacy was, on the whole, a major success. From Asia to Europe and through the Middle East, he managed to achieve many notable ‘firsts.’ He left behind peace deals and initiatives while eliminating terrorists and confronting strategic threats in an unprecedented and unorthodox manner.” (Emphasis in the original)
“…Trump’s administration was the first to put great economic pressure on Beijing to contain its expansionist ambitions, and was the first and only government in the West to publicly blame China for its role in the coronavirus pandemic. In 2017, Trump managed to revive the Quad, or Asian NATO, which is a strategic forum between the US, Australia, Japan, and India to counter increased Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
“In Europe, Trump brokered a landmark agreement last year between Kosovo and Serbia on the normalization of relations…
“Trump also achieved a historic accomplishment by mediating peace deals between four Arab states—the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan—and Israel within a matter of months, a feat unmatched by any of his predecessors. Trump proved to be the first US president to keep his election promise of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and he was the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall.
“Sudan is now closer than ever before to the US…
“It was Trump who, within a span of 10 months, eliminated ISIS leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 Abu Muhammad Masri, and Qassem Soleimani, the mastermind behind Iran’s military and subversive operations in the Middle East…
“Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama…left him the political legacy of a defeatist nuclear deal with Iran, from which Trump withdrew. Obama also left Trump with overwhelming chaos in Syria, where Bashar Assad crossed Obama’s chemical red line with no retaliation. It was Trump, not Obama, who launched airstrikes targeting Damascus’s chemical arsenal for the first time.
“The core of Trump’s foreign policy view was to avoid random wars and push for peace while at the same time undermining forces that pose a threat to global prosperity, security, and stability by constraining them politically, militarily, and economically.”
There is so much to consider, with regard to Biden’s foreign policy, but nothing is more worrisome than his approach to Iran, which – in a pronounced and deeply troubling breach of international understandings – is currently enriching uranium at 20%. The JCPOA permits enrichment to 3.5%.
Biden says he is interested in resuming the deal, but won’t lift sanctions until Iran stops the current enrichment.
But returning to the deal is a huge mistake in any event, first because the highly flawed agreement 1) allows Iran to retain equipment for enrichment and 2) includes a sunset clause which would allow Iran a legal path to ultimately go nuclear. And then, because Iran cheats consistently and significantly.
The fact that support of the agreement wasn’t wise is what convinced President Trump to pull out and levy sanctions designed to weaken Iran in the first place.
Biden, in making this stipulation regarding Iran’s cessation of enrichment, is seeking to demonstrate that he is the tough guy, the one in control. But Iran isn’t having it. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared on Sunday that the US must first lift all sanctions before Tehran reverses nuclear production. Right now, they are eyeball to eyeball.
In fact, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that legislation passed in late December forces the government to toughen its stance on the US if sanctions are not eased in another two weeks. Exactly how its stance would be “toughened” is not clear.
On Sunday, Khamenei (pictured) tweeted: “The post-US era has started.” This pretty much tells us how intimidated he is by Biden.
Please, read “The Case Against the Iran Deal” written by Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevy.
“Reviving the JCPOA will ensure either the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it…
“The JCPOA didn’t diminish the Iranian nuclear threat; it magnified it.” (Emphasis added)
I also highly recommend Caroline Glick’s piece, “Biden’s drive to war in the Middle East.”
“The main strategic assumption that guided Obama and his advisors [when negotiating the Iran deal] was that Iran was a status quo, responsible power and should be viewed as part of the solution – or ‘the solution’ rather than the problem in the Middle East. Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, its proxy wars and its nuclear program were unfortunate consequences of a regional power balance that put too much power in the hands of US allies – first and foremost Israel and Saudi Arabia – and too little power in Iran’s hands. To stabilize the Middle East, Obama argued, Iran needed to be empowered and US allies needed to be weakened. As then-Vice President Biden put it in 2013, “Our biggest problem was our allies.” (Emphasis added)
This is so important I repeat it: The man now sitting in the White House, the man who will pretend to be tough with Iran, said “Our biggest problem was our allies.”
Outside of its own borders, Iran utilizes proxies to levy attacks and gain control of territory. The most powerful of its proxies is Hezbollah in Lebanon. But the Houthi rebels in Yemen are also allied with Iran.
Last October Hassan Irlu, a senior officer of the Quds Force in the Revolutionary Guards came to Yemen as an “ambassador” to the Houthis, thereby implicitly giving the rebels recognition as a state. Irlu specializes in manufacturing and launching ballistic and anti-aircraft missiles, however, not diplomacy.
His presence marked an escalation in Iranian activities in Yemen, with a potential for increased danger to Saudi Arabia and Israel. When this concern was relayed to President Trump, by Saudi Arabia and Israel, he designated the Houthis as terrorists and applied sanctions to Hassan Irlu.
Now Biden has lifted the sanctions against Irlu and removed the terrorism designation from the Houthis. What is more, he has indicated that the US will not be supporting Saudi Arabia in its battle with the Houthis.
Biden says this is for humanitarian reasons having to do with relief that needs to be sent in. But the picture is far more complex. I quote from an article Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center, wrote in 2018. Her points remain valid (emphasis added).
“The mullahs of Iran have declared war not only on the West and Israel, but also on Sunni Islam. Saudi Arabia, home to Mecca and Medina near the Red Sea, and Egypt, home of al-Azhar University, are prime targets…
“Iran has no border on the Red Sea, but a base in the heel of the Saudi boot, i.e., in Yemen, would put it in a perfect position to encircle Saudi Arabia by water, and to also undermine Egypt, Jordan and Israel. It would allow access to overland routes through Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan — and directly into Egypt — for the purpose of arming rebels along the coast and the militias Egypt has been fighting in the Sinai desert.”
The dire situation described above brings home with great clarity the need here in Israel for a strong, right wing government consisting of leaders with courage and conviction.
That’s a tall order, and I acknowledge this. For too long Israelis have endured a divisive leadership not properly focused on the needs of the nation.
But now that we must contend with someone in the White House who will be encouraged by his mentors to undermine us, someone prepared to empower Iran and the Palestinian Authority (which I hope to write about next), it becomes an imperative.
There was a time when all of Israel came together in a crisis. Sadly, we have not felt that sense of unity for some time. But at this point we must unite in strength. And it is my prayer that those who will be elected and called upon to govern will understand this.
One expectation I do have is that the Sunni Gulf states, in particular Saudi Arabia, will draw closer to Israel, now that Biden is in the White House.
We are just weeks away from the election. Voting will occur on March 23, and in the days following a coalition will be put together.
There has never been an election in Israel in which one party achieved the 61 mandates (seats) – the simple majority of the Knesset – needed to form a government. There have always been coalition governments. And so it is not just the election results that matter – although of course they do. It is also the political juggling that constitutes coalition formation and portfolio assignments that is critical.
Last Thursday the first step in the electoral process was finalized, as each party had to register its list. There can be no changes at this point, either in the lists, in the designation of head of the party, or in party mergers.
Thirty-nine parties are registered to run in the election. This is unfortunate as most won’t pass the threshold (3.25%), which means that all votes that have gone to those parties will be lost.
There are some number of those registered, perceiving the futility of continuing, who will undoubtedly withdraw before election day. Some, such as Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, who founded The Israelis with a great splash, have already decided not to continue.
The focus in the election is on a bloc centered around Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Likud party, and a competing “anti-Bibi” bloc centered around Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party.
Remember, Sa’ar has pledged not to join any coalition in which Netanyahu is a minister, but Naftali Bennett, head of Yamina, while aspiring to be prime minister, has not. Prudently, I would say. Yamina, actually, would play a major role in a Likud-led right wing coalition.
Polls will be released very frequently between now and the days right before the election – fluctuating from day to day, they are looked upon as a guide to the relative strength of each bloc. The media treat these polls as gospel, but it is best to remember how inaccurate they can be.
Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid is drawing very respectably in the polls and is figured as someone who would join Sa’ar’s “anti-Bibi” group. From where I sit, this is a dubious proposition; all of the many factors that pertain aside, Lapid is no right-winger.
Benny Gantz is continuing to run with Blue & White, but with the withdrawal of Moshe Ya’alon, who is leaving politics, his numbers are very low. He should follow Ya’alon’s example, but will not.
The Labor Party, with new head Merav Michaeli, who is announcing her intentions of reviving the party, is barely expected to make a showing.
Her immediate predecessor, Amir Peretz, has left Labor because she chose to break off from the current coalition and he chose to retain his position as trade minister.
The Arab Joint List has divided, with Mansour Abbas of Ra’am splitting from the other three parties who now see him as a traitor. All parties are weakened by this move.
When last I wrote, Bezalel Smotrich of National Union was negotiating with Bayit Yehudi’s new head, Hagit Moshe, for formation of a national religious bloc, which was to include Otzma Yehudit. Moshe declared herself firmly committed to this, but apparently ended up seriously dissatisfied with what Smotrich was offering. Rather than run with that bloc, she declared that Bayit Yehudi would not be running and would advise followers to cast their votes for Yamina. Reportedly, there is an agreement with Bennett which will provide Bayit Yehudi with a role in the government, if Yamina is part of it.
This was a disappointment. A full national religious bloc would have been preferable, and it must be hoped that the bloc, minus Bayit Yehudi, does manage to pass the threshold. This bloc should be part of a right wing coalition.
As I have said so often, my friends, stay tuned…
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.