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Week in Review: Will Trump Follow Through on Moving the Embassy to Jerusalem?

Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem Could Help Bring About Peace—But Will It Happen?

The Jerusalem Embassy Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 1995, mandates that the United States must move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which three successive presidents have avoided by signing a State Department waiver. But after the first week of the new Donald Trump administration, rumors have swirled in both Washington and Jerusalem that a move is imminent, especially after Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat announced on Monday that he his office was holding talks with U.S. administration officials about a potential move. However, when asked about the possibility in an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Thursday night, Trump responded, “I don’t want to talk about it yet. It’s too early.”

Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday that the benefits of moving the embassy outweigh the drawbacks, many of which are overblown. He observed that because the United States has never formally accepted Israel’s claims to any part of Jerusalem, and its consulate building in Jerusalem only deals with Palestinian diplomatic issues, “Washington lacks any formal presence in the capital of its main democratic ally in the Middle East but does maintain a diplomatic presence in that ally’s capital for another political entity that claims territory within that city.” Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would address this issue.

Satloff also wrote that fears of a third intifada resulting from this issue represent a “condescending view of Arabs and Muslims that assumes they will react mindlessly to incendiary calls to violence.” Indeed, despite Palestinian leaders’ warnings of violence if the embassy is moved, Israeli intelligence believes that the issue is not a major concern for most Palestinians. “The daily conversation in the West Bank is mainly about the electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip, not the embassy,” an officer in the Israel Defense Forces’ Central Command told The Times of Israel.

Syracuse University Prof. Miriam Elman made similar points in her own Washington Post op-ed last month, arguing that the move would demonstrate the United States’ “clear, credible commitment to act. The costs of a move may be high, but the literature on conflict resolution suggests this could prove a strength, not a weakness.” This demonstration of commitment is important because “the perception of a party’s will and commitment is essential to peacemaking.”

The embassy move would also strengthen American’s hand in peace talks by sending “a clear signal to the Palestinians, including key members of Mahmoud Abbas’s own Fatah, that their outlandish threats of violence – ‘we shall open the gates of hell’ upon America – will not work, and will no longer be tolerated from an entity that enjoys generous US aid,” former Israeli deputy national security advisor Eran Lerman wrote last week for the BESA Center.

Another American-Israeli Defense Milestone

While the location of America’s State Department team in Israel is yet to be determined, military ties between the two countries remain consistent.

In the past two weeks, Israel has received two major boosts to its multi-layered missile defense system, which it has developed with American support. Last week, Israel received its first Arrow-3 ballistic missile interceptors, which were jointly produced by Israel Aerospace Industries and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. And on Wednesday, Israel announced a successful test of the David’s Sling system, designed to defend against intermediate-range missiles. The test was conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

In one of his first acts as the new Secretary of Defense, James Mattis called his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman on Thursday and expressed “his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security,” according to a readout of the call provided by the Pentagon. This signals that high-level military cooperation can be expected to continue.

Iran Tightens its Grip on the Middle East

As a reward for helping to keep Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in power, Iran is helping itself to pieces of its ally’s territory. Syrian Prime Minister Emad Khamis signed agreements last week ceding 15,000 acres of land to Iran for mining and agricultural purposes. The agreements also gave lucrative contracts to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the military force that reports directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei.

These deals come in the wake of further reports that Iran is engaging in population transfers, removing Sunni communities from areas recaptured from rebels and replacing them by moving in Shiites from elsewhere in Syria, as well as Lebanon and Iraq. Moving populations for strategic purposes is a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” This activity was prohibited because it was a Nazi tactic during World War II.

Iran’s ability to profit from supporting Assad shows that, in this case, crime does indeed pay.

In a related story, Iran appointed Brig. Gen. Iraj Masjedi, a senior advisor to IRGC-Qods Force chief Qassem Soleimani, to be its ambassador to Iraq earlier this month. This move, according to Foundation for Defnse of Democracies research analyst Amir Toumaj, shows Iran’s “commitment to ensure that its political and military influence will continue to dominate its western neighbor.”

Iran has also gained further influence in Lebanon by hijacking the country’s political process. After Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, was able to get its candidate, Michel Aoun, elected president of the country, the Iran-backed terror group has been working to change laws to give itself even more power, meaning that, as one analyst recently described it, it is “effectively controlling Lebanon.”

With its growing control over Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, Iran is close to achieving its goal of “the establishment of a Shi’ite Arab territory that physically links Iran to southern Lebanon via Iraq and Syria,” as Hanin Ghaddar wrote last month in The Tower Magazine.

Iran’s recent progress in achieving domination of the Middle East makes it an odd time to argue that Iran’s influence is largely illusory. But that’s what Trita Parsi, president and founder of the National Iranian American Council, asserted this week in Foreign Policy. Parsi and co-author Adam Horowitz wrote that “any assumption that the region’s Shiite communities are subservient to Tehran, and cooperating with it to further Iran’s power, involves a grave misreading of Mideast history and politics.”

Parsi was one of the major promoters of the nuclear deal with Iran, which many experts predicted would lead to greater Iranian aggression in the Middle East. Maybe Parsi is denying Iran’s power because he wishes to defend the nuclear deal. But denying the obvious won’t help his already compromised credibility.

Feature: Who Will Talk About Iran’s War Crimes in Syria?

Benjamin T. Decker observed that “with Russian backing at the UN, the Iranians are virtually bulletproof in Syria, and Aleppo has proven that fears about the scale and scope of war crimes committed in the conflict were completely justified.”

At issue are a series of incidents that took place during the evacuation of Aleppo following the Iran- and Russia-backed assault on the eastern part of the city last month. In one of the incidents, a convoy of 800 leaving the city was stopped by a Hezbollah checkpoint, at which point men were forced off the bus. Three were reported killed and five more injured, with the fates of many more uncertain.

“With Soleimani in Aleppo overseeing the final attack in mid-December, as well as unconfirmed reports that all checkpoints in the city’s Ramouse District were under the control of the IRGC, one can see a direct link between Tehran, Hezbollah, and the December 16 convoy attack,” Decker observed.

He also noted that many of the Iran-allied groups involved in the evacuation of Aleppo have also been accused of war crimes in Iraq.

Decker doesn’t hold out much hope that the United Nations will take action, but digital activism could force the issue. “The power of social media has given not only a voice to the voiceless, but a lens through which those of us in the privileged world can see the brutally dark reality of the Syrian civil war,” Decker wrote. “As the West contemplates its next steps, it must look carefully through this lens, because it will mean the life or death of millions of innocent people.”

This Week’s Top Posts

• Israel to Take in 100 Syrian Orphans
Ukraine Seizes Illicit Shipment of Missile Components Destined for Iran
• IDF Adapts Fighting Doctrine in Case of Attack by Hezbollah

Three Big Questions

The news that two Syrian opposition activists appeared at an event at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and that Israel has set in motion the possibility of adopting 100 Syria orphans, beg a question: If there is a post-Assad Syria, will it be at peace with Israel?

Ukraine seized an illicit shipment of missile system components that was headed to Iran in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. With a new American administration in place, will we start to see non-nuclear sanctions and penalties enforced?

Iran just upheld the five-year sentence of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British charity worker who was arrested and separated from her daughter as she sought to return to the United Kingdom after visiting family in Iran last year. Iran has a long history of extracting concessions from Western countries in exchange for returning citizens it has arrested on trumped-up charges. What is Iran seeking in return for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release?

[Photo: White House]