It is increasingly the case that as the United States fumbles and stumbles its way through the Middle East, leaving allies nervous and foes emboldened, an informal alliance of Israel and moderate Sunni monarchies is looking after U.S. interests rather than the other way around.
The Obama administration blundered badly on Syria, first in not intervening quickly before jihadists entered the fray and then in erasing a red line on (repeated) use of weapons of mass destruction. To the delight of Syria’s senior partner in Iran, the United States, as it had in Iraq, also set a timetable for complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. Reticence to protect gains in Iraq, excessive effusiveness when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power and frayed relations with Israel emboldened and encouraged Iran and increased the profile of surrogates such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. How could it not have that result? Indeed, U.S. allies, including Jordan and post-Morsi Egypt, went public with complaints.
We now see how that plays out in the Gaza war and in the nuclear negotiations going on in Vienna.
If the United States had no stomach for confronting Iran’s junior partner in Damascus, Israel has shown no hesitation and quite a bit of PR adeptness in pummeling Iran-backed Hamas. Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams explains:
Hamas is losing this war badly and is unwilling to accept that defeat–whatever the cost to Gazans. Hamas has done little property damage in Israel, has not hit any symbolically important target, and has killed not one single Israeli. The Egyptian proposal would have stopped the fighting but not given Hamas any of its stated goals, such as getting the release of Hamas terrorists who had been exchanged for Gilad Shalit but recently re-arrested. Hamas also appears to want Turkey or Qatar to mediate the cease fire, because it views Egypt as deeply hostile under its new government.
If Israel comes into Gaza, one has to assume some IDF soldiers will be killed. Perhaps then Hamas will claim a partial victory and agree to a cease fire. This is a polite way of saying Hamas feels it has not spilled enough Israeli blood and wants some- and of course is unconcerned about how many Palestinians will die.
Rather than a PR victory, Hamas is facing humiliation. It would arguably be the first defeat for the Iranians since President Obama took office. Understand that the tiny country of Israel is willing to launch a ground exercise — those boots on the ground Obama always holds up as the only alternative to inertness — whereas the United States won’t lift a finger to punish Syria from the safety of fighter planes or missile batteries far from harm’s way. In a word, it is embarrassing for the administration — or it would be if the president was clued into the perception of the United States in the region.
Egypt played its part as well, offering a truce with no hint of concessions to Hamas. When Hamas predictably rejected it, Egypt was happy to rely on Israel to continue destroying the Muslim Brotherhood’s Gaza branch (Hamas). Egypt has cracked down on the tunnels into Gaza as well, thereby boosting its own security and aiding Israel.
It’s much the same story in Vienna. The president horrified allies by making a rotten interim deal that lifted sanctions, held out the prospect of a sunset on sanctions and seemed to recognize Iran’s right to enrichment. The United States has been back-pedaling from the United Nations resolutions and chasing a deal ever since. It’s been up to Egypt, the Gulf states and Jordan to let it be known that a bad deal would unleash a nuclear arms race in the region (a shopping spree in Pakistan and elsewhere for nukes) and for Israel to declare repeatedly that it will act unilaterally to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state. We have Congress, the Sunni monarchs and Israel working to prevent Obama from giving away the store. The only credible military threat now comes from Israel. In doing so the Jewish state is looking after their own security! but also the security of the West, and the United States specifically.
We’ve gone from leading from the front to leading from behind to being dragged along by smaller, poorer, weaker allies. Unfortunately, Egypt and Israel can’t stop Vladimir Putin in Ukraine or curb China in Asia, but the notion that these countries more effectively look after U.S. interests than we look after our own should be sobering.
It doesn’t need to be this way. Yesterday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) took to the floor of the Senate to give a comprehensive and damning critique of the Obama administration’s relations with Israel and its posture with Iran. As to the peace process, he correctly summed up the lunacy in continued treatment of Mahmoud Abbas as a partner for peace (remarks as prepared for delivery):
Ever since Arafat and Abbas were given autonomy to run the Palestinian territories twenty years ago through the Oslo Accords, they have used that power to radicalize their population and harden opposition to the very idea of peaceful coexistence with a Jewish state of Israel. Palestinian children are bombarded with heavy-handed propaganda praising the virtues of suicide bombers and other mass murders. Sesame Street-style puppets and cartoon characters are horrifically used to encourage children to grow up to become terrorists. Yet President Obama hailed President Abbas as a man who could help broker a peace deal, and Philip Gordon called him in his speech last week a “reliable partner” for peace.
Neither Hamas nor its partner, the Palestinian Authority, has displayed any interest in peace. The so-called Hamas-affiliated technocrats Abbas embraced have done nothing to curb Hamas’s violence or even express sympathy for the murdered Jewish teenagers. The incessant campaign of incitement carried out by the PA lays bare the myth that Abbas is in any way moderate or possesses any real desire for peace with the Jewish state.
Pointing out that Iran is backing Hamas and other terrorists, he recommended we end the sanctions give-away and stop negotiating from a position of weakness in Vienna:
In the face of this blatant hostility from the Islamic Republic of Iran, it seems counter-intuitive for the United States to be participating in nuclear negotiations with Tehran at this time. Iran’s leaders are actively engaged in inciting and supplying violent terrorism, and our focus should be on thwarting this behavior in Gaza, not engaging in diplomatic niceties with them in Vienna. Given Iran’s ongoing pattern of arming Hamas with increasingly sophisticated weapons, it is simply unacceptable to risk their achieving nuclear capability by exploiting the eagerness of the Obama administration to get a deal — any deal — by the July 20, 2014, deadline. We need to recognize that the arbitrary decision to relax sanctions and engage in six months of negotiations under the Joint Plan of Action last year was a historic mistake. We need to dramatically reverse course and reimpose sanctions until Iran makes some fundamental concessions by ceasing all uranium enrichment, handing over its stockpiles of enriched uranium and destroying its 19,000 centrifuges. And as a further condition we should demand that Iran stops its state sponsorship of terrorist attacks against our allies. Only then should Iran see a relaxation of sanctions. I am pleased to file legislation this week, the RED (Re-impose, Enforce, Dismantle) Act of 2014 which as its name suggests, re-imposes the strong sanctions that were so punishing to Iran, includes an enforcement mechanism to ensure these measures are implemented, and calls for the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program which should be the only path to relaxing sanctions in the future.
The connection between Hamas and Iran is a sobering reminder of the larger context in which the events of the last month have taken place. They are not an isolated local issue that could be managed if only Israel would act with restraint.
The administration is hopeless, but the House and Senate should take his remarks to heart. It’s time to stop feeding the myth that Iran is interested in a deal, and it is essential we stop relying on Israel and other allies to do what the world’s only superpower should do.