In the span of just a few days, U.S. President Donald Trump appears to have met both his first true foreign policy crisis and his most challenging bilateral summit more smoothly than many had feared he might. Whether this turns out to be anything more than a symbolic victory, and whether it has an effect in the fight against terrorism and the effort to rein in North Korea, will depend on what he and his administration do next.
Trump was clearly justified in Thursday’s decision to order cruise missile strikes on Syria’s Shayrat airbase, from where the regime had launched a sarin gas attack on civilians earlier in the week. As a somber Trump noted, the world could not let such a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention — not to mention civilized norms — go unpunished. The strikes themselves were targeted and proportional; the U.S. military says that Russian personnel at the airbase were warned ahead of time to avoid sparking a wider clash. Allies welcomed the move, and it should go some way toward deterring any future use of chemical weapons on the Syrian battlefield.
In over five years as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, I found no issue more impervious to solutions than Gaza. We were constantly preventing, managing or responding to crises — trying to head off terror attacks by Hamas and others, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, negotiating ceasefires and working to alleviate human suffering.
I also learned that Gaza wars follow a kind of routine. Hamas upgrades its attack capabilities, and tensions build. Both sides prefer to avoid an escalation, but some incident, perhaps unintended, leads Hamas to increase the rate of rockets fired into Israel. Eventually, Israel deems the provocations intolerable, and launches a heavier response, such as when it conducted a targeted strike on Hamas military wing chief Ahmed Jabari at the start of Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. A full-on conflict ensues, with ceasefire negotiations competing with Hamas rocket and tunnel attacks, Israeli airstrikes and calls from the Israeli public for a ground invasion to “finish the job.”
Unhappily, there are growing signs that this cycle is about to start anew…
By Stephen M. Flatow: Israel critic Peter Beinart has announced that when his children “near adulthood, I’ll encourage them to visit the West Bank.” Why? “So they can see for themselves what it means to hold millions of people…without free movement or due process,” he wrote in his column for The Forward.
The Beinart children are in for quite a surprise.
In his various articles and media appearances, Papa Beinart regularly accuses Israel of occupying and oppressing the Palestinians. I imagine that’s what the Beinart kids hear at the dinner table, too.
But when the young Beinarts arrive in Judea and Samaria, they will discover that dear old dad wasn’t telling them the whole story. In fact, he wasn’t even telling them a small piece of the story.
By Nicholas Blanford: Having successfully propped up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against an array of armed rebel groups for more than six years, Iran appears to be preparing the ground for a long-term presence in the war-ravaged country, causing rising alarm in neighboring Israel, its bitter foe, and garnering the attention of Washington.
Iran has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buttress Syria’s economy, oversees a multinational Shiite militia force to bolster Mr. Assad’s flagging army, and trains Syrian militia networks based on Iran’s Basij paramilitary volunteer force.
But Iran’s success and expanding reach into Syria, which serves as Tehran’s vital geopolitical link to its client Hezbollah in Lebanon, has made Syria potentially a key arena if the US wants to undermine Iran’s regional stance, analysts say.
As a consequence, President Trump’s administration has signaled an intention to roll back the Islamic Republic’s influence, not only in Syria but elsewhere in the region.
By Daniel Pipes: “We’re in dire straits,” Jordan’s King Abdullah said half a year ago. After recently completing a week of intensive travels and discussions throughout Jordan, I found no one disagreeing with that assessment. Jordan may no longer be hyper-vulnerable and under siege, as it was in the past, but it does face possibly unprecedented problems.
Created out of thin air by Winston Churchill in 1921 to accommodate British imperial interests, the Emirate of Transjordan, now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, for almost a century has led a precarious existence. Particularly dangerous moments came in 1967, when pan-Arabist pressures led King Hussein to make war on Israel and lose the West Bank; in 1970, when a Palestinian revolt nearly toppled the king; and 1990-1991, when pro-Saddam Hussein sentiments pushed him to join a hopeless and evil cause.
Today’s dangers are manifold. Islamic State lurks in Syria and Iraq, just beyond the border, attractive to a small but real minority of Jordanians. The once-robust trade with those two countries has nearly collapsed — and with it, Jordan’s lucrative transit role. In a region bountiful in oil and gas, Jordan is one of the very few countries to have almost no petroleum resources. City dwellers receive water just one day a week and country dwellers often even less. Tourism has declined, thanks to the Middle East’s notorious volatility. King Abdullah’s recent assertion of authority grates on those demanding more democracy.
Jason Greenblatt meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
By Barney Breen-Portnoy: The Trump administration seems to be adopting a “bottom-up” approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking that represents a dramatic shift from that held by the Obama administration over the past eight years, a former State Department Middle East negotiator told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.
“I think it is too early to tell about the details, but if you look at the elements of what Trump is trying to do, they are fundamentally different from what Obama tried to do,” Aaron David Miller — a vice president at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, DC and a CNN global affairs analyst — said. “However, whether or not they end up in the same place is another matter.”
The Trump administration’s apparent goal, in Miller’s view, is not to reach a comprehensive peace deal now, but rather lay the groundwork for a potential future one — “by working with the Israelis on a set of confidence-builders on one hand, and trying to engage the Arabs states on the other, to get them to press the Palestinians and offer the Israelis incentives to go farther.”
By Josh Rogin: The Trump administration’s budding efforts to establish a new Middle East diplomatic process are about to run into some stiff headwinds at home. Many in Congress want to cancel all U.S. aid to the Palestinians because of payments made to militants who attack Israelis. President Trump will soon have to decide if confronting the Palestinians on that terrorist incitement is more urgent than pursuing a pathway to peace.
Trump conducted his first phone call with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday, and White House Israel affairs adviser Jason Greenblatt is headed to the region this week. On Greenblatt’s agenda will be whether the U.S. and Israeli governments should raise the pressure on the Palestinian Authority to stop paying the families of Palestinians imprisoned or killed after attacking Israeli or American civilians, a practice both governments believe incentivizes violence.
By Clifford D. May:This palm-fringed oasis in the Jordan Valley has been continuously inhabited for 10,000 years. That justifies it billing itself as the “oldest city in the world.”
Officers of the Palestinian National Security Force (NSF) headquartered here will proudly tell you that it’s now among the safest places in the Arab Middle East, and that their paramilitary organization is an important reason why. They’re also grateful for the training, arms, ammunition, equipment and even buildings being provided by American taxpayers.
This arrangement was agreed to by the Israelis who, in 1994, gave the Palestinian Authority administrative control over Jericho and other West Bank cities.
Could the next step be a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Count me among those who see that as unlikely anytime soon no matter how energetic, determined and skillful the diplomacy of the Trump administration turns out to be.
By Anthony Cappacio: Iran is likely to go on an international shopping spree for surface warships, submarines and anti-ship missiles after the expiration in 2020 of a United Nations resolution prohibiting it from acquiring sophisticated weapons, according to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence.
The expiration “will allow Iran to pursue foreign acquisitions that have been inaccessible since sanctions were imposed,” according to a new assessment of Iran’s naval forces, strategy and capability obtained by Bloomberg News. Entitled “Iran’s Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies,” the 44-page publication is an update to a 2009 version.