In this episode of the “Our Middle East” podcast, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president and host Dan Diker and Malcolm Hoenlein, former executive vice chairman and current vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, discuss American Middle East policy, the not-so-secret friendly relations between the Iranian people and Israel, and the recent IDF operation in Jenin.
A region that acts on perceptions
Hoenlein believes that although American leadership still has geopolitical interests in the region, Americans have sent the wrong signals. This includes President Biden’s intentional diplomatic omission in not inviting PM Netanyahu to the White House: “There’s only one message that ayatollahs understand, and that is strength. They probe for weakness, that’s what dictators do. And where they find weakness they exploit it.”
Hoenlein also mentions the Gulf states’ disappointment at the U.S. Navy’s lack of response to Iranian aggression in the Gulf. He says, “In the Middle East, people do things based on perception, not necessarily on reality. There are different senses of cognitive dissonance which are culturally rooted.”
Diker agrees and cites a defected former senior official of the Iranian government, and Emirati and Saudi analysts, who say that the Obama and Biden administrations have misread the regional realities on the ground.
The U.S. and the Iranian regime
Hoenlein observes that contrary to its stated objectives, in the Middle East-North Africa region, the U.S. appears to passively support the Iranian regime, while the Iranian regime continues to oppress and kill its own citizens, including thousands of protesters after Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of the regime’s modesty police, all in addition to Iran’s human rights violations against religious minorities, civil rights advocates and gays.
The Iranian people and Israel
Surprisingly, the Iranian populace has shown support for Israel, and Israel recently hosted Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, son of the dethroned shah. Hoenlein emphasizes that the West and Israel must exploit the configuration of goodwill between Iranians and the West to make positive changes, to reengage the Middle East.
Jenin and Iran
Jenin’s infiltration by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has exacerbated tensions in the region, as its proxies in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, encourage terror, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized at a Fourth of July event at the American embassy in Jerusalem last week.
Hoenlein agrees. “When you’re fighting Iran, fighting back terrorism, you’re talking about Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen—this attempt to encircle Israel. For Israel, these are existential issues, and the world treats it as if it’s some sort of a minor threat to Israel’s existence, warning about ‘violations,’ ” he said of Western condemnations.