Saturday, May 27, 2017

Trump and the Middle East

On his first overseas trip as President, Trump's first stop was to Saudi Arabia, where he spoke to the assembled leaders of the Arab and Muslim world. In thanking his host, King Salman, Trump referred to the "magnificent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." He spoke of the "splendor" of the country, the "kindness" of its citizens, and the "grandeur of this remarkable place." Was he over the top with his rhetoric? Given the Saudi's history of human rights abuses, yes he was. But clearly Trump and his team had decided to practice realpolitik. As Trump stated: "We are not here to lecture - we are not here to tell other people how to live..." Rather, Trump was there with three goals in mind: uniting these countries in the fight against ISIS and terrorism, establishing a bulwark against Iran's hegemony, and gaining acceptance for Israel's right to exist as the Jewish state in exchange for a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Trump was exceptionally strong in his urging the Muslim world to participate in the fight against terrorism. Trump: "Terrorists do not worship G-d, they worship death." And, using a phrase that may turn out to be historic, Trump said: "A better future is possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out." But words are not enough. Qatar helps fund Hamas. The Saudis help to fund many mosques in the US and around the world, with their radical brand of Wahhabbism. Is there any reason to believe that these countries will change their ways?

In seeking to reestablish our ties to the Sunni Arab world, after eight years of disengagement by Obama, Trump signed a $110 billion dollar arms deal with King Salman. Over the long haul, the deal is expected to reach $400 billion. As the Saudis have no peace agreement with Israel, and no recognition of Israel, the Israelis were not pleased. The intent, again, is to shift the balance away from the Ayatollahs which Obama pursued, back to our more traditional allies. As a Jew, and as a supporter of Israel, I find the arms deal disconcerting - even though I understand it.

The mainstream media, however, remains critical of anything and everything Trump does. The New York Times expressed their concern over the "unsettling path" Trump has taken to align the US with the likes of Saudi Arabia. The Times: "The Saudi human rights record is no better than Iran's." Was the Times so concerned with human rights when Obama aligned himself with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the Ayatollahs in Iran? The reality is that US policy has traditionally aligned with the Sunni Arabs, if for no other reason than they are the keepers of the oil.

The Times also expressed their disappointment with Trump choosing to "single out Iran, the leading Shiite-majority state and Saudi Arabia's main enemy." After acknowledging the Iranians support for "militias" in Lebanon and Yemen, and its backing of Assad in Syria, the Times agrees that "many of Iran's activities are indeed destabilizing." Many? Iran remains the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

During his stay in Israel, Trump was welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with these words: "We are absolutely delighted to welcome you and Melania to the P.M.'s residence in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and the united capital of the Jewish State." It is sad that Netanyahu must continue to remind US leaders that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, and that it will remain undivided and in Israeli hands. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated the nonsense we so often hear about the Middle East: "We solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace dilemma, we start solving a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East region."

Trump repeated the same fallacy, following the lead of not only Tillerson and the State Department holdovers from the Obama Administration, but also what has been a long-term attitude of State towards Israel. Exactly how will "solving" the Israeli-Palestinian issue affect these other issues in the Middle East: the Sunni-Shiite divide within Islam; the desire by Iran to expand its control over the Middle East and export terrorism around the world; the Syrian civil war; the failed states in Iraq, Libya and Yemen; and the overall lack of freedom throughout the Arab world? The truth is that the Palestinian issue has nothing to do with most of the problems in the Middle East. Nothing. And the Sunni Arab world was already moving closer towards Israel, seeing it as an ally in the fight against terror and against Iran; not to mention that they see the technological and economic benefits of dealing with Israel.

As Caroline Glick notes in her most recent column, 98% of the Palestinians live in Areas A and B in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), and have been under Palestinian Authority control since 1996. Glick: "They carry Palestinian passports. Their births and deaths are recorded in the Palestinian population registry. They vote in Palestinian elections." Although, it should be stated that Abbas has refused to hold elections for his office for well over a decade. But Israel can never give up Area C, an area mostly unpopulated, but which allows for Israeli control over the Jordan river valley. Without Israeli control over the borders of the West Bank, how long before Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and ISIS move in? Abbas and the PA are not strong enough to keep them out. Abbas' regime would fall quickly. Are the US policy makers so blinded by their pro-Arab outlook, and against Israel, that they are unable to see what will happen?

Let me put it another way. If, G-d forbid, Israel were overrun and the Jews killed or evicted and all the land was in the hands of the Arabs, who actually believes that the result would be peace throughout the Middle East? Who? For those of us who live in, or have visited, Southern California, imagine that you are traveling northbound on the 405 Freeway from the city side of Los Angeles into the San Fernando Valley. As you reach the top of the hill and start to descend into the Valley, you can see across the Valley floor to the mountain range on the other side of the Valley. That short distance is equal to the entire width of Israel in some places. Should Israel give up complete control of the West Bank, they are looking at enemies who also will have elevated vantage points in the hills of Judea and Samaria; vantage points from which they can easily attack Jerusalem, the Knesset, Ben Gurion airport, and even Tel Aviv and most of Israel's population centers.

Trump visited the Western Wall (the Kotel), but as it sits in what much of the world calls disputed "East" Jerusalem, he did not invite Netanyahu to go with him. He visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Early on he said he would move the US embassy to Israel's capital city of Jerusalem. He has since backed off. Trump seems to be falling under the same anti-Israel influences that permeate much of our State Department and other Federal agencies. Trump's efforts to get the Arab and Muslim world united in a fight against terrorism is to be commended. His desire to align the Sunni Arabs with Israel against the Ayatollahs is worthy of admiration. But, there is no point in forcing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East, and our best ally there, to commit suicide. None.