(January 21, 2021 / JNS) Can leopards change their spots? Or to be more pertinent, can those who put Israel, the West and the world in such danger through the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal with the Iranian regime now accept that what they did was catastrophically wrong?
Can such people, who at best never understood what Israel needed to ensure its security or, at worst, actually supported those bent on its annihilation, stop speaking simultaneously out of both sides of their mouths, accept the need to treat Israel as a valuable ally, and finally do what is actually needed to keep it safe?
Great concern has been expressed over the likely attitude of the new U.S. president, Joe Biden, towards the Middle East. Biden has said he wants America to rejoin the 2015 nuclear accord, from which President Donald Trump withdrew in May 2018, provided Tehran resumes compliance.
But that accord—whose limitations turned any checks on compliance into a farce, and therefore allowed Tehran to lie and cheat as it always does—was rotten to its core.
It was supposed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and transform it from the world’s most dangerous terrorist state into a regular country. In fact, at best the deal would only have delayed the Iranian nuclear weapons program by a few years.
Meanwhile, by lifting sanctions, it funneled billions of dollars into the regime. This enabled it to increase its dominance of the region, repress its own people still further, and continue its sponsorship of international terrorism and promote attacks upon Israel in pursuit of its genocidal aim of wiping it off the map.
Even before this week’s presidential inauguration, the Biden administration had reportedly opened talks with Tehran about restoring the deal. This prospect has been described by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as “the greatest national security threat to Israel that will be posed by the Biden-Harris administration.”
Such concern has been greatly exacerbated by Biden’s appointment of so many Obama administration retreads who were involved in the 2015 deal. Among them are William Burns, the new director of the CIA, and Jake Sullivan, the new national security advisor, who were instrumental in paving the way for that deal through the secret talks they held with Iran.
The Secretary of State nominee, Tony Blinken, who was also closely involved in creating it, has wrong-headedly claimed that America’s withdrawal from it has placed Israel in more peril from Iran rather than less (which is emphatically not the view of Israel’s own government).
More alarmingly still are reports that Biden may appoint Robert Malley as a special envoy on Iran. Malley was brought into the Obama administration in 2014 as a Middle East adviser.
Viscerally hostile to Israel, he has been described as a propagandist for the Palestinian cause, writing revisionist accounts of Middle East history, demonizing Israel and excusing Palestinian terrorism. He has often co-authored articles with Hussein Agha, a former adviser to Yasser Arafat, and called for international engagement with Hamas.
Yet despite this ominous roll call, several administration nominees have emphasized that Iran is nowhere near compliance with the 2015 deal. Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week that the United States was “a long way” from re-entering the nuclear accord, and that Biden would consult with Israel and Gulf allies before doing so.
The United States, he said, should not lift sanctions or unfreeze Iran’s assets to get it to come to the negotiating table. He also talked about building on the Abraham Accords—the agreements that Israel has made with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
This may go some way towards explaining the caution on Iran. It would indeed be reckless and destructive in the extreme to halt or reverse the Abraham Accords, which offer an unprecedented opportunity to end the Arab world’s war against Israel.
But what led to this breakthrough was the policy of President Donald Trump. By pulling the United States out of the Iran deal and reimposing punitive sanctions to force the regime to end its belligerency, he suddenly showed the Gulf Arab states that their Iranian foe’s march to regional hegemony could be halted.
In the Middle East, you hug close to you the force with the greatest strength, even if it is your mortal enemy.
During the Obama administration, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states watched with horror as former President Barack Obama actually empowered their Iranian Shia foe, enabling it to extend its baleful influence into Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Yemen and Sudan.
Iran thus became the strong horse in the region. So the Arabs cozied up to it, with disastrous implications for both Israel and the West.
It was only because Trump turned the United States instead into the regional strong horse, putting American muscle behind the attempt to crush the regime, that the Arabs pivoted towards America and Israel, whose own strength in daringly picking off Iranian assets was repeatedly on display.
As the authoritative Israeli commentator Ehud Ya’ari has observed, if there is now a significant reduction in tensions between the United States and Iran, countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia may rush to make their own arrangements with the Tehran regime. In those circumstances, he writes, anyone who dreams of a common Arab-Israeli front that will block the return to the nuclear agreement may be deceived.
Since Arab recognition of Israel and the moves towards regional peace and stability therefore hinge on America’s toughness towards Iran, the Biden administration’s caution is understandable.
But what if Iran now tests Biden by the type of deniable provocations of which it is such a past master? What, indeed, will the administration do about Iran’s nuclear program which is now, in direct contravention of the 2015 deal, hurtling towards production of the bomb?
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed earlier this month that Iran had started enriching uranium up to 20 percent. Enrichment at this level is only a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.
Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, has said that Iranian nuclear scientists are now producing half a kilo of uranium enriched to 20 percent every day.
And what price America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia if, as Blinken told the Senate hearing, the United States should stop supporting it in Yemen, which would help Iran win its proxy war against Saudi Arabia through backing Yemen’s Houthi rebels?
There are also concerns that the Biden administration will re-energize the Palestinians’ war of annihilation against Israel. Blinken said the United States was still committed to a “two-state solution,” which the Palestinians regard as waging its war of annihilation in stages. But he also said it would continue to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and that the U.S. embassy would remain there.
So what does all this mean? Could the new administration be floundering in policy incoherence and arguments between opposing factions? Could they want to keep everything in play—encouraging further Arab recognition of Israel while simultaneously empowering the Palestinians, the left’s cause of causes, while still scratching their heads about Iran?
Or could it be that they have tacitly accepted that the despised and reviled Trump, whose moves against Iran and in support of Israel were opposed by the Democrats tooth and nail, has actually brought about the greatest movement towards peace in the Middle East for a hundred years—and for which the Democrats will now aim to steal the credit?
After all that’s happened, do you think that could really be so?
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy.” Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.
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