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15
May
2018

Foundations of a New Middle East


Israel is pleased with President Donald Trump’s recent actions, which are creating a United States-Israel front and strengthening shared interests with pragmatic Arab states.

Binyamin Netanyahu at the opening ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the opening ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem (GPO)

Laying the foundations of a new world order, especially in the Middle East, toward which U.S. President Donald Trump has been aspiring since the beginning of his term, is making progress. Transferring the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and, even more so, the withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran are the foundation stones of this order. At the center of the new policy lies the belief that the United States has the strength to change the situation through its position as a superpower.

President Barack Obama did not believe that the United States was – or should be – a superpower. He thought that Iran was a power that could contribute to regional stability. Therefore, if Iran were capable of producing a nuclear weapon within 15 years, it would not be so terrible. Obama perceived extreme realistic Islamist elements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and President Hassan Rouhani’s stream in Iran, as elements that should be strengthened in order to hinder radical Islamic terror activities. He adopted an approach of avoiding any disagreement with the Palestinian narrative, thereby creating tension in relations with Israel. The nuclear deal with Iran and his refusal to impose a veto on UN Security Council Resolution 2334 about the territories were the highlights of this approach.

The New United States Middle East Policy

Trump has knocked away all of these components. In his opinion, the United States is a superpower that can and should rally its economic, political, and military forces to shape a situation that will protect American interests. The moderate Sunni Muslim camp and Israel are natural allies, and Iran can definitely be restrained so that it will not reach the level to produce a nuclear weapon. Additionally, with regard to the Palestinians, Trump has rejected the false narrative of Israel’s neighbors, and he supports recognizing the plain truth and reality of the situation. In light of this, he transferred the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and cut aid to the Palestinian Authority until it stops adhering to its scandalous policy of paying salaries to terrorists. Trump is not deterred by the passivity of the Europeans or the resistance of Russia (as also proven by the Western attack on Syria led by the United States).

Against the backdrop of U.S. and Israeli firmness, the ball is now in the court of the rivals that benefited from American weakness during the Obama period. The Iranians are furious, of course, because Trump has taken away the amazing gift that Obama gave them – a sure route toward a nuclear weapons arsenal and the freedom to create an Iranian hegemony in large parts of the Middle East, from where they can also pose a direct threat against Israel. The Iranians want to react powerfully, but they understand that the real balance of power and their weak economy could become much worse. Therefore, a debate is expected within the Iranian leadership. Even if the voices supporting caution prevail and they tenaciously hold onto the rest of the signatories of the nuclear agreement, more extreme Iranian elements may put the entire ruling structure in danger by taking an aggressive step of escalation.

The Palestinians will express their anger over the next few days through violent demonstrations and attempts to carry out terror attacks. However, when the smoke disperses, they will need to ask themselves if the time has come for soul-searching. Hamas is expressing dissatisfied noises indicating recognition of its weakness, and in the future, the Palestinian Authority may be compelled to deal with the ramifications of its insistence on steadfastness to the struggle against Zionism. The PA may come to understand that the situation has changed.

Apparently, North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un has shown everyone the way.

Israel is pleased with Trump’s recent actions, which are creating a United States-Israel front and strengthening shared interests with pragmatic Arab states. At the same time, Israel’s direct challenge to Iran’s military presence in Syria has placed an exclusive burden on Jerusalem’s shoulders. It is not clear whether the U.S. standpoint on the Palestinian issue is in total sync with Israel’s stance.

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A version of this article appeared in Ma’ariv in Hebrew on May 14, 2018.

About Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.
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