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It’s no surprise that disruptive situations are developing in the Middle East; that seems to be the normal state of affairs. Lately I’ve noticed some situations that independently would barely raise eyebrows; collectively, however, I’m concerned that the area is heating up more than usual, and I believe these events will affect not only the region, but will have implications for the US.
It’s been widely reported that Qatar supports terrorism, but you may not be aware of the level of that support.
As for the Qatari regime itself, it has massively financed jihadist groups for more than 20 years. Qatar is a major bankroller not only of al-Qaida and Hamas but of militias associated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In a State Department cable from 2009 published by WikiLeaks, US diplomats referred to Qatar as the largest funder of terrorism in the world.
According to the Financial Times, the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Saudis and their allies was their discovery that in April, Qatar paid Iran, its Iraqi militias and al-Qaida forces in Syria up to a billion dollars to free members of the royal family held captive in southern Iraq and 50 terrorists held captive in Syria.
As a result, the Saudis, UAE and Egypt have slapped economic sanctions on Qatar, demanding that it sever ties with Iran. President Trump has condemned the Qataris, only to have his comments soft-pedaled by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The most obvious difficulty is that Qatar spent more than $1 billion constructing the Al Udeid Air Base outside of Doha. The Qataris have assured us that base operations will not be interrupted and that the 10,000 US service members will not be affected. Time will tell.
Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon suggest that Iran’s response to these actions might push Iran to abandon the nuclear agreement and resume its efforts to “acquire a nuclear option.” The US now finds itself directly in a conflict between Sunni and Shiite factions.
Dealings with Qatar aren’t the only complications developing in the Middle East. Reports on the growing strength of Hezbollah are raising alarms. Ron Prosor, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, points to the military strengthening of Hezbollah and the relationship between Lebanon and the terrorist organization
Hezbollah is sponsored by Iran and has become increasingly brazen in the last decade. It is now more militarily powerful than most North Atlantic Treaty Organization members. It has 150,000 missiles and could launch 1,500 of them a day. From the ground, air or sea, it can strike anywhere in Israel. Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, hasn’t distanced the Lebanese army from Iran’s proxy. Rather, he has embraced it. ‘Hezbollah’s weapons do not contradict the national project,’ he said in February, but are ‘a principal element of Lebanon’s defense.’
Prosor is calling on the US to stop Hezbollah by sponsoring the revision of the ineffective U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which does nothing to stop Hezbollah from building up its military infrastructure. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon or Unifil must be empowered to disarm Hezbollah and demilitarize South Lebanon. I’m not optimistic that this will occur but if it doesn’t, the entire Middle East, not just Israel, could be at serious risk.
President Trump’s announcement that he would once again waive the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was greeted outside of Israel with shoulder shrugs; his decision, however, was seen as a betrayal by some in Israel. I suspect that the president sees this decision as a tactic to persuade the Palestinians to come to the negotiation table. He may also try to persuade Israel to stop building in the settlement areas (which was a useless strategy the last time this was done). This pressure will only create greater resentment by the Israelis.
Just following the President’s announcement, John Bolton spoke at an event in Israel. He was awarded the Guardian of Zion award, and in his acceptance speech, shared his vision for resolving the Palestinian-Israel conflict, as described by Caroline Glick:
Bolton began his discussion Monday evening by rejecting the ‘two-state solution.’ The two-state model, he noted, has been tried and has failed repeatedly for the past 70 years. There is no reason to believe that it will succeed now. This is particularly true, he said, given the lack of Palestinian social cohesion.
Hamas controls Gaza. The PLO, which is supposed to be Israel’s peace partner, barely controls parts of Judea and Samaria. At a time when more cohesive Arab societies are unraveling, the notion that a Palestinian state would survive and advance regional peace and stability is laughable, Bolton argued.
Bolton then turned to his preferred policy for resolving the Palestinian conflict with Israel, which he dubbed ‘the three-state solution.’ Under his plan, Egypt and Jordan would work with Israel to solve the Palestinian conflict. Egypt would take over the Gaza Strip and Jordan would negotiate the status of Judea and Samaria with Israel.
At least John Bolton has a realistic view of the area’s conflicts. Although the president has said that Israel and the Palestinians must be the ones to decide the outcome of a resolution, I think he is unrealistic to think that negotiation is an option. I hope that he will eventually realize the intransigence of the Palestinians, and finally support Israel’s approach, whatever that may be. At some point, Israel will need to commit to a resolution strategy and require the Palestinians to comply, since the Palestinians are only interested in destroying Israel. Ironically, the president may be pushing Israel to finally act on their own. As Caroline Glick says:
The time has come, at the outset of the second 50 years of Israeli control over Judea and Samaria, for Israel to take matters into its own hands. Our leaders must stop beating around the bush. They need to use the powers they have to secure Israel’s military and civilian interests in Judea and Samaria for the next 50 years as best they can. And they need to stop waiting for someone else to solve our problems for us.
These are only a few areas of major concern. I haven’t mentioned Saudi Arabia’s fighting in Yemen, the Islamic State attack on Iran, the Syrian civil war, and Syria’s use of deadly sarin gas. We need to be paying close attention to the Middle East, because our own safety and security may be at greater risk than ever.