Pushing Back Against Iran
After Iran conducted ballistic missile tests over the weekend despite a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Iran not to conduct such tests, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn announced on Wednesday that the United States was “officially putting Iran on notice” and would not tolerate its “violations of international norms.”
Two days later, the U.S. Treasury moved to sanction more than two dozen individuals and companies for their role in Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terrorism. Foundation for Defense of Democracies executive director Mark Dubowitz dubbed the move “the beginning of a coercive strategy” and said that he expects “more to come.”
In an analysis for Bloomberg View published before the sanctions were announced, Eli Lake wrote that the actions taken by the Donald Trump administration would likely serve as a deterrent and “reduce the risk of a regional war [that] Iran and its proxies are currently stoking.”
Lake explained how the uncertainty generated by Trump was a necessary part of that deterrence:
Most times, predictability and steadiness are important for statecraft. But there are exceptions. Iran’s recent aggression in the Middle East is one of them. Since completing the nuclear deal in 2015, Iran has tested ballistic missiles at least 12 times, according to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. This is not only contrary to U.N. Security Council 2231, which calls on Iran not to test missiles. It also means Iran is perfecting the delivery mechanism for an eventual nuclear weapon, if it chooses to build one down the road. Remember, the limits on Iran’s enrichment activities expire between 2025 and 2030.
Perhaps the deal’s supporters believe Iran’s Sunni neighbors and Israel would just allow Iran to keep testing with no real consequences. But that’s a risky bet. And it’s made even riskier in light of Iran’s aggressive shadow war throughout the region. The Yemeni Houthi militias it has armed, trained and equipped just attacked a Saudi ship in the Red Sea. These skirmishes can quickly escalate. How likely is it that the nuclear deal would survive such an escalation?
Lake also pointed out that the Trump team has indicated that it will not tear up the nuclear deal that its predecessor signed. But by more aggressively enforcing the deal’s terms while “preparing new sanctions and signaling that there will be greater consequences under his administration for missile tests and other forms of Iranian regional aggression,” the Trump administration could be preparing for “a little confrontation today [that] could stave off a larger conflict down the road.”
The executive branch is not alone in supporting stronger countermeasures to Iran’s recent moves. At a forum on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated that there was bipartisan support for additional sanctions on Iran due to its destablizing behavior. A number of Democratic senators, including those who supported the nuclear deal, suggested to reporters that sanctions would receive bipartisan support in the upper chamber too.
Truth in Peace Processing
In an analysis written for the Begin-Sadat Center on Sunday, Max Singer wrote that the Trump administration must stop tolerating false premises and adopt a “truth-telling strategy” if it wants to successfully lead a new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Singer described one of the most pernicious premises, which ended up playing out in the news this week:
Palestinian leaders have an additional false view on which they insist when they speak in Arabic, and which they often proclaim to international audiences. This view is that the Jewish people did not, in fact, live in and rule parts of Palestine, including Jerusalem, for hundreds of years long before the beginning of Islam. While this false claim is not generally accepted diplomatically, UNESCO recently endorsed the fiction that the ancient Jewish temples were not built on the Temple Mount – a site UNESCO calls “al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif” (Noble Sanctuary).
This Palestinian false history is not challenged by the US or by any other democracy. Had the US utilized an active strategy of telling the truth, the Palestinians would not have been able to continue to use their false picture to resist peace.
In a speech last Friday commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, António Guterres, the new UN Secretary-General, stated that “Imperial Rome not only destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, but also made Jews pariahs in many ways.” Guterres reiterated this history in an interview with Israel Radio, adding “no one can deny the fact that Jerusalem is holy to three religions today.”
The Palestinian leadership went into attack mode. Adnan al-Husseini, the Palestinian Authority’s minister for Jerusalem affairs, accused Guterres in an interview with China’s Xinhua News Agency of “neglect[ing] the UNESCO resolutions, which clearly said that the al-Aqsa Mosque is purely an Islamic heritage.” Two controversial UNESCO resolutions denying the well-documented Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem were approved in October, the same month that archaeologists announced findings that confirmed the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple.
Al-Husseini also called Gutteres’ remarks “a violation to all human, diplomatic and legal rules and laws and a violation to his position as the secretary general,” and demanded that Guterres “apologize to the Palestinian people for his remarks.”
Ahmed Majdalani, an adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, added in a statement that Guterres’ comments were “a strike to the credibility of the UN as a global organization that should stay to the side of the occupied people and be against the power of the occupation.”
“[It] seems the new UN secretary general is lacking trust and he doesn’t understand his position,” Majdalani claimed.
The invective against Guterres continued. Palestinian Media Watch reported on Thursday that an op-ed in the Palestinian Authority’s official newspaper accused Guterres of having “sinned against peace” and reiterated the call for him to apologize to the Palestinians.
This episode would be a good starting point for the United States to follow Singer’s advice and demand that the Palestinians stop denying Jewish history.
Moving U.S. Embassy Could Advance American Interests
A number of experts have opined in recent weeks that moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Trump proposed during the presidential race, could help advance the peace process. But qualified support for the move came from a surprising source this week: Daniel Shapiro, who served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel from 2011 until last month.
Shapiro argued in Foreign Policy that relocating the embassy to western Jerusalem, which the international community agrees would remain under Israeli sovereignty in any peace deal, “is one way of acknowledging the centuries of history that link the Jewish people to the city, the questioning of which is closely linked to the denial of Israel’s very legitimacy.”
Given the Palestinians’ continued denial of those ties, this rationale has taken on greater significance.
Journalist Sara Toth Stub noted the increasingly-common experience of tour groups from China—an officially atheist country—wending their way through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City to take in its religious history. As it turns out, Chinese travelers comprise one of the fastest-growing segments of Israel’s tourism industry, Stub explained: “In the first ten months of 2016, about 65,900 visitors arrived from China, 53 percent more than the same period of 2015, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.” It is expected that Israel will see over 100,000 tourists from China this year.
China, which celebrated 25 years of diplomatic relations with Israel this week, is now the Jewish state’s third-biggest trading partner after the United States and the European Union. It sees Israel as a key to its modernization:
As it seeks to transform itself from a manufacturing powerhouse to a leader in technological innovation, Chinese investors have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Israeli high-tech startups, and several Chinese multinational corporations have set up research and development facilities in Israel. Talks aimed at creating a free-trade agreement between the two countries are scheduled to begin soon. And China is now seeking to resurrect the Silk Road by reviving some of its ancient Middle Eastern trade routes under its One Belt One Road program, placing Israel in a strategically important geographic position.
This week’s top posts:
• Lessons From a Former Somali Refugee on the Fight Against Islamist Extremism
• Exclusive: Canadian Vocational School Rescinds Boycott of Israeli Students
• WATCH: Iran-Backed Houthis Attack Saudi Ship Off Coast of Yemen
Three Big Questions
Reports in German media that the country’s intelligence community believes that Iran has also tested a nuclear-capable cruise missile in addition to its conventional ballistic missiles raises an important question: Is Iran covertly developing weaponizable nuclear material, in defiance of the deal it agreed to with major powers in 2015?
A senior IDF official told Israel’s Channel 2 on Tuesday that Hamas has fully rebuilt its military capabilities since much of it was destroyed in Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. When will Hamas see its opportunity to initiate a new terror war against Israel?
For the third time in a month, Jewish community centers across the United States were targeted with bomb threats on Tuesday. Who is behind them? Are these threats meant merely to disrupt, or are they a warm-up for something worse?
[Photo: Fars News ]