In 1979, one of the most consequential and significant upheavals in Middle Eastern history swept the former Persian Empire. Just days before the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s triumphant return to his homeland, U.S. President Jimmy Carter asserted, “Iran is an island of stability in the Middle East.”
A few days later, a revolution occurred in front of the lingering eyes of the United States and the entire world—one that transformed Iran from an autocratic, pro-Western, monarchical state, under the government of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, to an Islamic-theocratic republic dominated by a Khomeini-led regime
How is it, then, that the United States comes to find itself in the same position over and over? How does the world’s foremost superpower repeatedly fail to comprehend the geopolitical map of the greater Middle East? And why is the current American leadership surprised by the proliferation of black swans in a lagoon that Israel has proven, time and again, to be the sole white swan treading water in their midst?
In September 2020, Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno-Karabakh after months of regional tensions and years of long-standing ethnic struggles. It didn’t take Azerbaijan more than 12 days of fighting to achieve a sweeping victory, resulting in its gaining of total control over the area. The attack caught U.S. intelligence off guard. Again, America was surprised by an unsurprising development.
The CIA, despite being deeply involved in Azerbaijan affairs and holding a mission in its territory, failed to come up with a satisfactory explanation for this clearly embarrassing failure.
Exactly one year later, the United States again critically underestimated regional security dynamics. As the world watched in horror, the U.S. left Afghanistan, in what was widely criticized as a hasty retreat. Yet, despite America’s having spent more than two decades in the country, its officials failed to anticipate or correctly assess what would transpire there less than 24 hours after their withdrawal from the Southeast Asian behemoth.
Indeed, while the Taliban was secretly sealing agreements with a variety of tribes in provinces across Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence agencies generally—the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency specifically—failed to conduct a fundamental intelligence analysis of the Taliban’s intentions, as well as its capacity to quickly and effectively take over Afghanistan in the absence of American patronage.
“The possibility of the Taliban taking over everything and taking over the entire country is very unlikely,” the experienced politician yet newly elected President Joe Biden said, not long before he was forced to admit, in a statement to the nation, that the administration had received inaccurate intelligence assessments about the Afghan National Army’s resilience.
This self-inflicted embarrassment now turns out, however, to be the least of the U.S.’s concerns. Sunni Gulf states, watching events unfold in the region with grave and legitimate concern, increasingly believe that the U.S. lacks the capacity to retain its former status as the regional security leader. Nor do these Arab states believe anymore that American forces will stand by their side if—not when—the time comes.
Now, barely allowing the United States to finish recovering from the Afghanistan fluster, it appears to be inching ever so closer to its next faux pas: the profound and persistent Palestinian quandary.
Ignoring the sovereignty of Israel in Jerusalem, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced America’s intention to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem, mainly focused on Palestinian affairs. This seemingly innocuous statement places Jerusalem squarely back in the center of any future negotiations with the Palestinian Authority—something that the Trump administration flatly refused as a matter of both present and future policy.
At the same time, the Biden administration’s plan proves that U.S. intelligence, defense and foreign-service bureaucracies remain outlandishly ignorant of, or are consciously ignoring, a simple and basic fact: that the P.A.’s ability to lead its people, or control the violent agitators in its midst, is shaky at best and inadequate at worse.
The U.S. publicly expressed concern last July over the precarious situation of the P.A., which led it to a request that Israel to do everything in its power to stabilize floundering P.A. infrastructure.
Jerusalem is first and foremost the eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel, and no Israeli or American governmental body has the authority to challenge its existence or wholeness. Yet, at the same time, the still-hegemonic United States must concede, before it’s too late to do so, that establishing a consulate in Jerusalem is a terrible mistake—not only for its own strategic interests, but for those of its primary regional ally, Israel, and that of any future Palestinian state, which the U.S. remains committed to will into existence.
If America fails to recognize reality, both in the context of its relationship with Israel and to regional security as a whole, the Biden administration will find itself yet again embarrassed. Its detachment from reality and facts on the ground may have grave consequences on the pro-Israel Arab alliance, consisting of states that are vastly more disillusioned with Palestinian statehood than are their Western counterparts.
By opening an American consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinians, the Biden administration is at risk of having the botched Afghanistan withdrawal be the most negligible of its blunders when history books are written.
Lt. Col. (Res.) Yaron Buskila is the secretary general of “Habithonistim – Protectors of Israel.” He served in the IDF as battalion commander, special operations officer and commander of the Southern Command infantry training base.