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Confront Iran now, before it is too late

History will record Biden’s obsessive efforts to negotiate with the ayatollahs as one of the biggest self-inflicted wounds

The Middle East is tense, with Iran considering its response to Israel’s April 1 elimination of high-ranking Quds Force officers, and a possibly decisive Israeli attack in Rafah against Hamas terrorists pending. Commentary reverberates with worries about “escalation” and “wider war”, as if Hamas’s October 7 barbarity was not escalation enough, or Iran’s mandate to Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Iraq’s Shia militias thereafter is not already a wider war. 

Tehran’s ayatollahs have two overarching objectives: hegemony in the region and hegemony within Islam. Under its publicly declared “ring of fire” strategy, the brainchild of now-deceased Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani, Iran is now assaulting Israel. The “ring of fire” embodies Iran’s indirect efforts through belligerent terrorist proxies, combined with its own military forces, against Israel (and, not often mentioned, against Gulf Arab states). 

Israel’s pounding of Hamas means things are not going well for Iran, but the decisive strategic decisions, in both Jerusalem and Tehran, still lie ahead. 

Most likely to occur first, and strategically more important, is Iran’s answer to Israel’s strike against its Damascus embassy. Whether embassy territory is “sovereign” varies, but international conventions provide that diplomatic premises are “inviolable,” at least to the receiving state. Common sense, however, tells us that, like churches or hospitals, diplomatic premises lose any protected status if used for military purposes, and it is clear that Iran’s Damascus embassy is essentially a Quds force headquarters. 

Nonetheless, Israel has unmistakably challenged Iran, much like America’s early exit for Soleimani in 2020. The stakes for both Israel and Iran are enormous. If Tehran’s riposte to Jerusalem is perceived as weak or ineffective, it risks losing sway over its terrorist surrogates and others, dismayed by the ayatollahs’ unwillingness to risk additional harm to Iran while still leaving them in mortal peril. 

Alternatively, significant, direct Iranian retaliation could impel Israel to strike Iran itself. Or, if Iran acts indirectly through a proxy such as Hezbollah, Israel would feel justified in seeking to cripple Hezbollah, as its Gaza operation seeks to cripple Hamas. There is no doubt Hezbollah is the A-team of Iran’s terrorist proxies and the greater military threat to Israel. 

Whether Israel is prepared to fight a two-front war its government must decide, and there is no doubt that decision is now squarely presented. 

Appropriately or not, however, commentators and politicians have focused since April 1 not on Damascus, but on Israel’s mistaken attack in Gaza on a humanitarian organisation’s convoy. This emotional response has objectively benefited Hamas by again delaying Israel’s offensive against the terrorist group in Rafah; resurrecting calls for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire (ie, unlinked to releasing Israel’s Hamas-held hostages); and compounding Israel’s domestic and international political difficulties. 

The Biden administration has significantly contributed to Israel’s isolation, as its distaste for Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu becomes ever-more evident. The White House has now twisted itself into a pretzel, largely because it fears the Democratic Party’s Left-wing threat to withhold support this November in a close, hard-fought election. Sensing Biden’s political vulnerability, these progressives are amping up efforts to restrict or prohibit additional arms sales to Israel, potentially crippling Jerusalem’s ability to exercise its right of self-defence. 

For those worried about Republican isolationism threatening Ukraine aid, Democratic unwillingness to support Israel should provide no comfort about America’s role in the wider world. 

Biden’s unwillingness these past six months to recognise Iran as the central actor in the Middle East’s ongoing terrorist aggression has already materially damaged America’s support for Israel. History will record his administration’s obsessive efforts to negotiate with the ayatollahs as one of the biggest self-inflicted wounds in politico-military affairs. 

Biden is equally unable or unwilling to recognise that the real criminal in Gaza is Hamas, cynically abusing its own supporters and Gazans generally, not merely as human shields, but as cannon fodder to protect themselves, a war crime if there ever was one. 

The consequences of Biden’s weakness, and indecisiveness in Israel, are serious and lasting. Israel has for too long delayed the Rafah offensive. Further delay will only increase domestic and international complaining and second-guessing, without reaping the benefits of destroying the remainder of Hamas’s organised combat capabilities and seizing full control of Hamas’s massive tunnel system under Gaza. 

Mopping up residual Hamas guerrilla/terrorist activities will be time-consuming, but dismantling it means Israel is freer and less at risk if it must confront Hezbollah full on. Or confronting Iran and its nuclear-weapons programme now, before Iran has a reliable deliverable capacity. 

Israel should finish the job of destroying Hamas’s military and political organisations soonest. Also soonest, the United States and Europe should declare openly that Iran is the real threat to peace and security in the Middle East, and act accordingly. The fastest way to end the ongoing conflict is to defeat the aggressor.

This article was first published in The Telegraph on April 11, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

 

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Will Biden allow Hamas a ‘terrorist veto’?

Humiliation in international affairs comes in many forms, often unexpectedly. It buried President Joe Biden on Friday, piling mortification onto his administration’s foreign policy cowardice.

First, the White House effectively abandoned Israel by sponsoring a Security Council resolution calling for an “immediate and sustained cease-fire” in Gaza. Then, unforeseen Russian and Chinese vetoes, cast almost for the fun of it, slapped America in the face. U.S. media, unfamiliar with U.N. performance art, has not fully appreciated the extent of Friday’s diplomatic reverses, although Biden added to his own problems on Monday by not vetoing yet another anti-Israel cease-fire resolution.

After weeks of negotiating one textual retreat after another, the U.S. draft resolution’s final, critical language was that the Security Council “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire,” and that “towards that end, unequivocally supports ongoing international diplomatic efforts to secure such a ceasefire in connection with the release of all remaining hostages.”

Previously, Washington vetoed three proposals not directly linking a cease-fire to freeing hostages and because council action could have derailed talks to reach a hostages-for-ceasefire deal. Washington had also circulated draft resolutions embodying this linkage, thus differing significantly from what Moscow and Beijing vetoed. One prior text reportedly expressed council “support for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practical, based on the formula of all hostages being released” and also “lifting all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale” in Gaza. Importantly, these earlier U.S. drafts had also called for a cease-fire “as soon as practical,” a far cry from “immediate,” which is now a concession almost impossible to reverse.

This time, however, the White House itself disconnected hostages from the cease-fire, albeit ambiguously, in a vain effort to bridge what is for Israel (and should have been for Biden’s negotiators) an unbridgeable gap. So clear was the priority to get agreement regardless of cost that one American diplomat conceded on Thursday that the U.S. draft was written for other countries to “read into it what they need to” to support it.

This is the kind of weakness that invites humiliation, which is precisely what happened. Ironically, it was Russian U.N. Ambassador Vasily Nabenzia who understood the domestic U.S. politics behind Washington’s motivation. He called the text “a diluted formulation” aimed to “play to voters and throw them a bone in the form of some kind of a mention of a cease-fire in Gaza.”

Europeans quickly took credit for shifting the U.S. view, foreshadowing new resolutions even more at variance with the administration’s initial post-Oct. 7 approach. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo boasted, “gradually other countries joined our position and the fact that the U.S. have adopted [it] too played a part.” French President Emmanuel Macron was even more explicit about Washington’s shift: “What’s important to note is that the United States has changed its position, and shown its will to defend, very clearly now, a cease-fire. For a long time, the Americans were reticent. That reticence is now gone.”

Indeed, on Monday, the U.S. abstained on the latest anti-Israel resolution, thereby allowing its adoption by all 14 other Security Council members. So doing will only strain Washington-Jerusalem relations even further, to the disadvantage of both.

However, Israel’s next moves to finish off Hamas are the real issue. There, Friday brought Biden more humiliation. Meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu unreservedly rejected postponing or canceling Israeli military action. Acknowledging Biden’s earlier support, Netanyahu declared, “but I also told him that we don’t have a way to defeat Hamas without going into Rafah, and eliminating the remaining battalions there. And I told him that I hope that we will do it with America’s support, but if we need, we will do it alone.”

The critical question is whether Biden agrees that Israel’s legitimate right of self-defense includes its clearly-stated objective of eliminating Hamas’s military and political capabilities. Fully backed by Iran, Hamas has barbarically precipitated Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. Having endangered its own civilians, Hamas hopes to save itself from destruction by persuading others to prevent an Israeli victory. If Biden’s ongoing intellectual confusion prevails, enabling Hamas to assert such a “terrorist veto” over legitimate self-defense, Israel will be permanently weakened. So too will global anti-terrorism efforts, with fatal consequences for even more innocent victims. America should flatly reject the concept of a “terrorist veto.”

Biden’s declining support for Israeli self-defense is intimately tied to his failing effort (so far) to topple Netanyahu’s government. Ironically, hoping that ousting Netanyahu will solve the Israel “problem” reveals Biden’s fundamental misreading of Israeli politics, which are always complex, especially now. Whatever Netanyahu’s personal approval ratings, his war cabinet, which includes several prominent political rivals, faces no substantial dissent from its anti-Hamas military objectives. In fact, by attacking Netanyahu, Biden has likely strengthened him through a backlash against outside interference.

Israel’s attack on Hamas in Rafah could come at any moment, and victory there could be a decisive turning point in the struggle against the ultimate aggressor: Iran. This is not the time for the United States to show weakness, especially at the U.N.

Jerusalem is following Winston Churchill’s insight, “without victory, there is no survival.” Washington should concur.

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Trump from 2018 to 2019 and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006. He held senior State Department posts in 1981-83, 1989-93 and 2001-2005.

This article was first published in The Hill on March 26, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Both Biden and Trump are foreign-policy flops, argues John Bolton

SADLY, FOR America and the world, neither candidate in this November’s election is fit to be president. Polling shows voters did not want a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, but that’s what they’re getting.

A president’s most important national-security responsibility is to identify the risks and opportunities facing America, and to craft ways to thwart the threats and advance the country’s interests. Whether because of incompetence, fading mental capabilities or, worst of all, succumbing to domestic political pressures, Mr Biden and Mr Trump have repeatedly proven unable to perform this mission. For years both have fared poorly at distinguishing friend from foe, a pretty low bar even for neophytes, let alone those seeking another turn in the Oval Office.

Mr Trump’s increasingly strident threats to withdraw America from NATO, for example, came perilously close to reality at the alliance’s summit in 2018. America dodged a bullet then, and Mr Trump’s short attention span kept him from resurrecting the idea before his term ended. Subsequently, however, he has repeatedly insinuated or explicitly advocated withdrawal. Recently, he rejected protecting NATO members whose defence spending did not meet their commitments.

Mr Trump is serious, but supporters and opponents alike discount the extraordinary risk of America leaving NATO. They call his bluster “negotiating tactics” to spur defence-spending increases, or just “Trump being Trump”. This is a grave error. His complaints about NATO or allies like Japan or South Korea shirking their responsibilities are intended not to strengthen America’s alliances but to be grounds for abandoning them. Some believe his most recent comments suggest he is becoming less inclined to withdraw from NATO. Don’t bet on it.

Mr Trump’s views on NATO assisting Ukraine after Russia’s invasion are similarly dangerous. Nonsensically, Mr Trump has said he could solve the conflict in 24 hours. Even worse, just weeks ago Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister and a friend of Mr Trump, said that Mr Trump “will not give a penny into the Ukraine-Russia war and therefore the war will end…[I]f the Americans do not give money the Europeans are unable to finance this war on their own.” Granted, with Mr Trump nothing is ever final until it is, and sometimes not even then, but the pattern is unmistakable.

Mr Biden is comparably flawed. In today’s Middle East conflict, he sees only a war between Israel and Hamas. He is unable or unwilling to grasp that Iran is assaulting Israel on several fronts through terrorist proxies. Despite initially embracing Israel and (literally) its prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, Mr Biden’s crabbed strategic sense now has him cowering under pressure from the Democrats’ anti-Zionist left wing. Rather than responding to Iran’s long-standing “ring of fire” squeeze against Israel, America is reducing political support for Israel, and there are threats from the White House and congressional Democrats to impose conditions on military aid that could reduce or eliminate it. Mr Biden is effectively granting moral equivalence between Hamas’s terrorist atrocities on October 7th and Israel exercising its legitimate right to self-defence.

The atrocities committed by Hamas (not to mention by Houthis, Hizbullah and Iraqi Shia militia) over decades have been unspeakable, as has Hamas’s ability to get away with inflicting suffering on its own people. Mr Biden has been duped, as have many others in the West, which is why they primarily blame Israel for civilian casualties. He fails to see that Hamas is at fault for civilian casualties through callously intermingling Gazan civilians with its own fighters and war infrastructure. Neither Hamas nor anyone else acquires a “terrorist veto” over Israel’s right to self-defence by sacrificing their own innocents.

Mr Biden, confused and beleaguered, echoed Hamas’s demands for a ceasefire, essential for Hamas to buy time to regroup, resupply and continue its war. Iran’s other terrorist proxies are preparing for a long struggle, with the Houthis, for example, now claiming to have acquired hypersonic missiles to continue trying to close the Red Sea and Suez canal passage to international commerce.

Instead of focusing on the real culprits—Iran and the terrorists—Mr Biden now criticises Israel. Releasing “intelligence” that suits his objectives, he implies that Israel’s government could fall if it doesn’t bend to his views, and that Israel’s policies will foster terrorism for a generation. Mr Biden backed Chuck Schumer’s demand for Israeli elections to oust Mr Netanyahu, saying the majority leader of America’s Senate “expressed serious concern shared not only by him, but by many Americans”.

Both candidates’ views of China offer further evidence of their foreign-policy flaws. Mr Biden spent his first term trying not to offend China, so as not to interfere with his holy grail of bilateral agreement on climate change. No deal emerged, and China wouldn’t have kept to it anyway. Meanwhile, China’s menace continued growing around its long Indo-Pacific periphery. Mr Trump’s holy grail with China was “the biggest trade deal in history”. He may still want that, but for now he blames China for covid-19 and hence for depressing his vote in 2020, thereby making it easier for Mr Biden to “steal” the election. He is instead calling for massive tariffs (his go-to answer on international problems) on Chinese goods, while misguidedly disparaging Taiwan for stealing America’s microchip industry.

Mr Biden and Mr Trump certainly both believe they will benefit politically from their respective approaches. Unfortunately, their understanding of America’s proper place in the world, and of the threats facing it and other Western democracies, is badly flawed, as are their responses. Many American voters despise both candidates, and with good reason. To the delight of America’s enemies, whichever of them wins, a long, grim four years lie ahead.

John Bolton was America’s national security adviser from 2018 to 2019 and its ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006.

This article was first published in The Economist on March 21, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

 

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Biden’s incoherent Israel approach only prolongs the conflict — and the Gaza suffering

President Biden’s dealings with Israel are increasingly incoherent.

His objectives are confused and contradictory; he ignores Iran, the region’s biggest menace; he failed to secure a pre-Ramadan cease-fire-for-hostages deal; and his efforts to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza are ill-conceived and ineffective, tragically likely to aid Hamas more than the innocent.

Biden should return to Square 1: Support Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense.

But his logic, such as it is, has more to do with domestic American politics than with the Middle East.

Ironically, therefore, he may be ensuring his own defeat this November.

Consider the administration’s efforts on humanitarian aid to Gaza civilians.

Biden had steadfastly refused to acknowledge that the central problem is not the volume of assistance available.

Instead, it is critical security concerns to (a) avoid “aid” shipments bringing in weapons, ammunition and supplies Hamas needs to continue its barbarism and (b) ensure that once legitimate supplies enter Gaza, Hamas does not hijack them for its own use.

These are not small issues.

Since the World War I origins of American international benevolence, our fundamental precepts have required aid go only to noncombatants and be delivered by neutral parties (or, at the very least, closely monitored) to avoid diversion.

Herbert Hoover’s Commission for Relief in Belgium established these conditions, which were intended to increase aid flows by giving donors confidence the aid was not misappropriated.

These are the correct humanitarian principles, but the conditions to implement them do not now exist in Gaza.

From Oct. 7 forward, there were reports of Hamas hoarding and diverting key supplies, and these incidents have only increased over time.

Biden appears not to care or understand that his approach is not more, but decidedly less, humanitarian because of its collateral effects of sustaining Hamas and prolonging the conflict.

His administration is resorting to virtue-signaling gimmicks and publicity stunts rather than focusing on pressing security issues.

Air-dropping assistance into Gaza, especially as Team Biden is implementing it, is a case in point.

By contrast, after the first Gulf War in 1991, President George H.W. Bush demonstrated the right way to air-drop supplies, rendering critical humanitarian assistance to Kurdish refugees fleeing Saddam Hussein’s vengeance.

On the ground, the Pentagon stationed drop-zone controllers to create order, ensuring the materials did not kill the intended beneficiaries when they landed, as recently happened in Gaza.

US logistical personnel, protected by security forces, also prevented the supplies from being seized on a “first-come, first-served” basis, which is also happening in Gaza.

Bush’s aid did reach its intended beneficiaries, unlike in Gaza, where we have no assurance Hamas terrorists did not expropriate the bulk of the air-dropped assistance.

Biden’s latest gambit of constructing a pier in Gaza to receive sea shipments is simply more showmanship.

The administration was quick to stress there would be no US “boots on the ground,” meaning, once again, no security forces to protect those constructing the temporary pier or those eventually off-loading supplies.

And building the pier might take as long as two months, which hardly addresses allegedly urgent needs.

Ship inspections in Cypress can partly reduce the risk of vessels transporting weapons to Hamas, but there is no guarantee those in real need will receive the aid and not Hamas.

Although unwilling to criticize its major donor, even the United Nations concedes land delivery of assistance is “more cost- and volume-effective.”

The worst part of Biden’s incoherence is its focus on the crisis’ symptoms rather than the crisis itself.

The problem is, first and foremost, Hamas.

It continues exploiting purportedly humanitarian concerns like Israeli hostages and Gaza civilians to advance its own politico-military objectives.

Only when Hamas can no longer leverage its barbaric capability to wage terrorist war, including by preventing the effective supply of humanitarian aid, will the problem disappear.

That has been Israel’s stated objective from the beginning.

Contrary to Biden’s recent comments, it is emphatically not a US “red line” for Israel to continue its efforts, in Rafah specifically, to finish the job.

Eliminating the terrorist threat is good geopolitical strategy, as well as good humanitarian logic.

And for Biden, it may be the only way to avoid further splitting the Democratic Party and becoming a one-term president.

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Donald Trump, 2018-19, and US ambassador to the United Nations, 2005-06.

This article was first published in New York Post on March 14, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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The two-state solution is dead. Israel must achieve total victory.

By John Bolton

Foreign Secretary David Cameron recently suggested that the United Kingdom could recognise the state of “Palestine” before waiting for the conclusion of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He said that recognition “can’t come at the start of the process, but it doesn’t have to be the very end of the process”.

This is dangerous ground for the unwary, including both Cameron and the credulous Biden administration, which is also musing about recognising a nonexistent state. Since the first Oslo Accord, if not before, it has been bedrock peace-process doctrine that both Israel and the Palestinians must agree to any “two-state solution”.  Moreover, Israel is responding to a terrorist attack comparable to al Qaeda’s 9-11 attack on America, while simultaneously menaced by Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. What kind of ally then puts a knife in Israel’s back?

Without agreement by the two most-concerned parties, there is no agreement at all. As former US Secretary of State James Baker often said, “we can’t want peace more than the parties themselves.”

Recognising “statehood” in international affairs is far more consequential than recognising a state of mind. In both treaties and customary international law, statehood has critically important characteristics, including having a defined territory and population, a capital city, and being able to implement normal governmental functions. There is no existing “Palestine” that meets any of these core criteria. Pretending that the Palestinian Authority (or Hamas for that matter) qualifies does not make it so. Indeed, wishing wistfully quite likely inhibits achieving the objectives statehood advocates supposedly want.

Imposing this key potential outcome of contentious negotiations almost certainly reduces Palestinian incentives to deal seriously with the Israeli government, which will in turn reduce Israeli interest in any deal. However much the Foreign Office dislikes Israel or Netanyahu, there is no justification for abandoning a key premise of the international state system.

The origins of the other-worldly notion of recognising a Palestinian state before there is one stem directly from none other than Yasser Arafat. Beginning in 1988-89 and continuing episodically thereafter, Arafat tried to have the Palestine Liberation Organisation admitted as a member of the United Nations and its specialised agencies. Because all UN agency charters limit membership to “states,” Arafat believed that admission would confer state status on the PLO, thus constructing not “facts on the ground” in the Middle East, but in the corridors of the UN.

President George H. W. Bush strongly objected to this fantasy, threatening to withhold all American contributions to any UN component that admitted “Palestine,” a threat ultimately embodied in statutory law by overwhelming House and Senate votes.

This is of far more than just historical interest. The threat worked until American resolve collapsed under Obama, allowing the Palestinian Authority to gain admittance to Unesco (from which Ronald Reagan had earlier withdrawn, with George W. Bush later returning). Obama’s mistake led to President Trump’s decision to withdraw. Biden rejoined. Should Trump win in November, count on a third withdrawal in short order.

Obsessively imagining a Palestinian state has thus caused real damage to the United Nations, which doesn’t matter that much except to the very types of people in the Foreign Office and State Department who also advocate early recognition of Palestine.

Rishi Sunak walked back Cameron’s frolic, saying the remarks had been “over-interpreted”. During Prime Minister’s Questions, however, he said Britain would recognise a Palestinian state when it was most conducive to the peace process, and stressed his commitment to a two-state solution. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, any prospect that Israel would agree, already close to nonexistent, died along with over 1,200 Israelis killed in Hamas’s barbaric October 7 attack.

If further proof were required, consider Biden’s embarrassing efforts to negotiate a second cease-fire and the release of remaining Israeli hostages brutally kidnapped by Hamas. It was not Israel, but Hamas which effectively scuttled this gambit, by adding conditions guaranteed to provoke Israel’s rejection, which they did

Netanyahu made clear that Israel wants, as it should, “total victory” over Hamas. In World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt insisted that Germany and Japan agree to unconditional surrender. There is no reason Israel should not demand the same from Hamas. We can then turn to other Middle Eastern threats facing Israel and the wider West, nearly all of which emanate from Iran.

This article was first published in The Telegraph on February 10, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Biden’s biggest Middle East problem: Too many competing goals

By John Bolton

Before Washington unleashed strikes against Iranian assets and Iranian-backed militias in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, media reporting highlighted the Biden administration’s concerns over potentially broader regional fallout. Fearful of escalating the current conflict and producing a wider war by crossing Tehran’s publicly declared “red line,” we heard, the United States would not attack inside Iran.

Retaliation, we heard, would be carefully calibrated lest it disrupt negotiations for a lengthy cease-fire and the return of Hamas-held Israeli hostages. Or disrupt talks to recognize “Palestine,” with the Palestinian Authority as Gaza’s postwar government. Or prevent Saudi Arabia’s recognition of Israel. Or complicate President Biden’s desire to withdraw American forces from Iraq and Syria. Or complicate his efforts to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Or more.

So intricately reticulated were Biden’s worries, that striking the right balance seemed impossible. Such worries are legitimate, but not for the reasons advanced by anonymous administration sources. The problem is of Biden’s own making. He has too many wrongheaded, confused and contradictory strategic objectives colliding and gridlocking, most likely leading to inadequate or undesirable results for them all. Washington needs not just aspirations, but priorities and concrete strategies to realize them. You can only simultaneously drive so many camels through one needle’s eye.

Biden’s wish list is overbroad and deeply flawed. For example, the idea of raising the Palestinian Authority from its ashes on the West Bank to govern Gaza leaves Israelis across the political spectrum speechless. The Post’s Ishaan Tharoor recently described the Palestinian Authority as “weak and increasingly unpopular,” a “sclerotic institution, riven with corruption,” and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, as presiding “over his rump of a fiefdom like other Arab autocrats in the region, stifling civil society and repeatedly dodging calls for fresh elections.” It defies common sense that such an entity should be entrusted with responsibility on the West Bank, let alone post-conflict Gaza.

Nor do the objectives of full diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, or a formal Saudi-U.S. military alliance, require near-term Palestinian statehood. Before Oct. 7, Riyadh and Jerusalem were progressing toward mutual recognition, motivated by their shared view of Iran’s threat, amplified by the palpable economic and political benefits likely after recognition. The current conflict has not altered those realities. Rather, Iran’s “ring of fire” strategy against Israel has emphasized, not reduced, the congruence of Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s national security priorities. Riyadh and other Persian Gulf capitals could help by publicly explaining why this is really an Iranian war against Israel, not an Arab- or Palestinian-Israeli war. The issue of Palestinian statehood was not resolved before several Saudi neighbors recognized Israel, nor will it be a dealbreaker for Riyadh.

And while it is clearly desirable to deepen politico-military ties between Washington and Riyadh, the Senate will be ratifying no significant treaties this year or well into the future, given the Constitution’s two-thirds majority requirement. If Biden’s negotiators are suggesting that quick treaty ratification is realistic, both Israelis and Saudis should beware. Nor would a Donald Trump victory in November be likely to change the picture, since no one can honestly say what he will do, other than look to put himself in the best possible light.

Recognizing a Palestinian state before peace is agreed with Israel only compounds the error. British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said recognition “can’t come at the start of the process, but it doesn’t have to be the very end of the process.” Sadly, these suggestions mirror Yasser Arafat’s endless campaign in U.N. agencies to make “Palestine” a state just by saying so. They contradict years of U.S. policy, as well as the Oslo accords, and will cause Israel to stiffen its resistance. This is no way to treat an ally gravely threatened by Tehran.

As for the “wider war” issue, the United States and Israel have been in a wider war since Oct. 7. The real worry should not be “wider war,” but the cause of the current one, which is unmistakably Iran. Until Iran stops interfering beyond its borders — stops arming, equipping, training and financing terrorist groups and stops seeking nuclear weapons — there will be no lasting Middle East peace and security. Iran does not and will not fear U.S. power until it pays heavily for what its barbaric surrogate Hamas unleashed four months ago, now joined in violence by Hezbollah, the Houthis and Shiite militias.

Prioritization is essential here — and actually straightforward, contrary to White House hand-wringing. By torquing Iran’s menace into the still-unresolved issue of the Palestinians, Biden has fused multiple problems into a larger, even harder problem. Instead, the United States and Israel should focus first on thwarting Tehran’s multiple offensives, then more intensively focus on other issues. Whatever their public commentary, Arab leaders fully recognize that cementing ties with Israel is critical to their own security, especially facing a possible future with a feckless American president. Every day that passes without consolidating like-minded states against Iran renders achieving any of Biden’s multitudinous goals more difficult.

The Middle East has never been an easy problem set. Biden is making it unnecessarily more difficult.

This article was first published in The Washington Post on February 6, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Trump Is a Danger to U.S. Security

His isolationist views and erratic thinking and style would post even greater risks in a second term.

When I became President Trump’s national security adviser in 2018, I assumed the gravity of his responsibilities would discipline even him. I was wrong. His erratic approach to governance and his dangerous ideas gravely threaten American security. Republican primary voters should take note.

Mr. Trump’s only consistent focus is on himself. He invariably equated good personal relations with foreign leaders to good relations between countries. Personal relations are important, but the notion that they sway Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and their ilk is perilously wrong.

Mr. Trump’s most dangerous legacy is the spread of the isolationist virus in the Republican Party. The Democrats long ago adopted an incoherent melding of isolationism with indiscriminate multilateralism. If isolationism becomes the dominant view among Republicans, America is in deep trouble.

The most immediate crisis involves Ukraine. Barack Obama’s limp-wristed response to Moscow’s 2014 aggression contributed substantially to Mr. Putin’s 2022 attack. But Mr. Trump’s conduct was also a factor. He accused Ukraine of colluding with Democrats against him in 2016 and demanded answers. No answers were forthcoming, since none existed. President Biden’s aid to Ukraine has been piecemeal and nonstrategic, but it is almost inevitable that a second-term Trump policy on Ukraine would favor Moscow.

Mr. Trump’s assertions that he was “tougher” on Russia than earlier presidents are inaccurate. His administration imposed major sanctions, but they were urged by advisers and carried out only after he protested vigorously. His assertions that Mr. Putin would never have invaded Ukraine had he been re-elected are wishful thinking. Mr. Putin’s flattery pleases Mr. Trump. When Mr. Putin welcomed Mr. Trump’s talk last year of ending the Ukraine war, Mr. Trump gushed: “I like that he said that. Because that means what I’m saying is right.” Mr. Putin knows his mark and would relish a second Trump term.

An even greater danger is that Mr. Trump will act on his desire to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He came precariously close in 2018. The Supreme Court has never ruled authoritatively whether the president can abrogate Senate-ratified treaties, but presidents have regularly done so. Recently enacted legislation to stop Mr. Trump from withdrawing without congressional consent likely wouldn’t survive a court challenge. It could precipitate a constitutional crisis and years of litigation.

Mr. Trump is unlikely to thwart the Beijing-Moscow axis. While he did draw attention to China’s growing threat, his limited conceptual reach led to simple-minded formulas (trade surpluses good, deficits bad). His tough talk allowed others to emphasize greater Chinese misdeeds, including massive theft of Western intellectual property, mercantilist trade policies, manipulation of the World Trade Organization, and “debt diplomacy,” which puts unwary countries in hock to Beijing. These are all real threats, but whether Mr. Trump is capable of countering them is highly doubtful.

Ultimately, Beijing’s obduracy and Mr. Trump’s impulse for personal publicity precluded whatever slim chances existed to eliminate China’s economic abuses. In a second term, Mr. Trump would likely continue seeking “the deal of the century” with China, while his protectionism, in addition to being bad economic policy, would make it harder to stand up to Beijing. The trade fights he picked with Japan, Europe and others impaired our ability to increase pressure against China’s broader transgressions.

The near-term risks of China manufacturing a crisis over Taiwan would rise dramatically. Mr. Xi is watching Ukraine and may be emboldened by Western failure there. A physical invasion is unlikely, but China’s navy could blockade the island and perhaps seize Taiwanese islands near the mainland. The loss of Taiwan’s independence, which would soon follow a U.S. failure to resist Beijing’s blockade, could persuade countries near China to appease Beijing by declaring neutrality.

Taiwan’s fall would encourage Beijing to finalize its asserted annexation of almost all the South China Sea. Littoral states like Vietnam and the Philippines would cease resistance. Commerce with Japan and South Korea, especially of Middle Eastern oil, would be subjected to Chinese control, and Beijing would have nearly unfettered access to the Indian Ocean, endangering India.

And imagine Mr. Trump’s euphoria at resuming contact with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, about whom he famously boasted that “we fell in love.” Mr. Trump almost gave away the store to Pyongyang, and he could try again. A reckless nuclear deal would alienate Japan and South Korea, extend China’s influence, and strengthen the Beijing-Moscow axis.

Israel’s security might seem an issue on which Mr. Trump’s first-term decisions and rhetoric should comfort even his opponents. But he has harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since the Oct. 7 attacks, and there is no foreign-policy area in which the absence of electoral constraints could liberate Mr. Trump as much as in the Middle East. There is even a danger of a new deal with Tehran. Mr. Trump almost succumbed to French President Emmanuel Macron’s pleading to meet Iran’s foreign minister in August 2019.

Mr. Trump negotiated the catastrophic withdrawal deal with the Taliban, which Mr. Biden further bungled. The overlap between Messrs. Trump’s and Biden’s views on Afghanistan demonstrate the absence of any Trump national-security philosophy. Even in the Western Hemisphere, Mr. Trump didn’t carry through on reversing Obama administration policies on Cuba and Venezuela. His affinity for strongmen may lead to deals with Nicolás Maduro and whatever apparatchik rules in Havana.

Given Mr. Trump’s isolationism and disconnected thinking, there is every reason to doubt his support for the defense buildup we urgently need. He initially believed he could cut defense spending simply because his skills as a negotiator could reduce procurement costs. Even as he increased defense budgets, he showed acute discomfort, largely under the influence of isolationist lawmakers. He once tweeted that his own military budget was “crazy” and that he, Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi should confer to prevent a new arms race. Mr. Trump is no friend of the military. In private, he was confounded that anyone would put himself in danger by joining.

A second Trump term would bring erratic policy and uncertain leadership, which the China-Russia axis would be only too eager to exploit.

This article was first published in The Wall Street Journal on January 31, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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As Iran-backed militias attack Americans, Biden tries to save Tehran terrorists

By John Bolton

Many words describe President Biden’s Iran policy. “Craven,” “weak,” “obsequious” and “embarrassing,” among others, come readily to mind.

But there are no words to describe adequately the recent White House decision, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, to warn Tehran about a possible terrorist attack.

Sunday’s serious American casualties in Jordan, at the hands of an Iran-backed militia, tragically underscore Biden’s folly.

Anonymous administration sources justified sharing intelligence with a US enemy by citing a “duty to warn” policy applicable to both citizens and noncitizens.

Although the Journal story mentions “exceptions” to this policy, its administration sources were less than candid.

I have experienced duty-to-warn personally.

Starting in 2020, the FBI, pursuant to the policy, has warned me of Iran’s efforts to assassinate me and other current and former American officials.

I’m sure Tehran is pleased to know President Biden nonetheless still has its best interests at heart.

The origins of duty-to-warn lie in the Libyan-ordered 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Information about terrorist threats had earlier been sent to US embassies but without comparable warning to the general public.

Combined with reports of other preferential treatment for government officials, the post-Lockerbie outcry produced federal legislation creating a “no double standard” policy.

Broadly stated, the State Department shares threat-related information to both official and non-official Americans, which is especially important for our citizens living or traveling abroad.

US law-enforcement and intelligence agencies were contemporaneously considering how to deal with information regarding American citizens facing specific terrorist threats.

The “duty to warn” evolved over decades, adjusting the scope and extent of threats considered and the categories of people to be warned.

Elements of the policy remain classified, but Intelligence Community Directive 191, largely unclassified, is likely the authority the anonymous administration sources cited.

Claiming Biden officials had no choice but to disclose threat intelligence to Iran is flatly wrong.

It is nearly inconceivable US policymakers could believe it wise to disclose sensitive material to an enemy state currently taking numerous hostile steps against Americans.

The Journal gave only one example of sharing intelligence with an adversary: in December 2019 when Donald Trump provided information to Vladimir Putin, hardly an inspiring precedent.

ICD 191 is limited in significant respects.

It is merely a policy statement, not a legislative requirement, and therefore subject to adaptation as circumstances require.

Indeed, it already provides two justifications for not disclosing threat information that emphatically apply to Iran.

The terrorists’ target here was memorial services for Qassem Soleimani, former head of Iran’s Quds Force, sent to his Maker courtesy of the United States in January 2020.

These memorials were Iranian government events, attended by large numbers of government officials, especially from the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards (of which the force is a component) and others.

ICD 191 authorizes waiving disclosure where the target is at risk because of its “participation in an insurgency, insurrection or other armed conflict” or where there is reason to believe the target “is a terrorist, a direct supporter of terrorists, an assassin” or commits other criminal activity.

These exemptions define attendees at the Soleimani memorial services to a T.

The White House decision to proceed anyway is an entirely unforced error.

It comes even while the administration is treating US military and civilian personnel in Syria and Iraq as little more than tethered goats, inviting targets for Iran-backed-militia attacks.

With the Houthis’ efforts to strike American naval vessels in the Red Sea, these attacks are now unambiguous, notwithstanding US and UK retaliation against the Yemeni terrorist group for firing on commercial ships.

And, as noted, Iran is directing an active assassination campaign against current and former government officials and private citizens like Masih Alinejad and Salman Rushdie.

Iran’s reaction to receiving intelligence about a possible terrorist attack is unknown, but Tehran obviously failed to defend against the threat, which manifested itself Jan. 3.

Thus, not only was Biden’s tip to the mullahs misguided, it failed, thereby proving it was a mistake to begin with.

There is no doubt ICD 191’s current text, written during the Obama years, is inadequate and needs strengthening, especially in light of Biden’s palpable misjudgment.

Duty-to-warn should not apply, for example, if the persons or state being targeted are themselves trying to murder US citizens.

That’s Iran.

Duty-to-warn should not apply to any person or state arming, training or financing terrorist groups threatening or attacking American personnel overseas.

That’s Iran.

This article was first published in The New York Post on January 28, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Oct. 7 was the opening attack in Iran’s ‘ring of fire’ war against Israel

When Hamas launched its blitzkrieg from Gaza on Oct. 7, it did not mark the onset of yet another Arab-Israeli war. Nor was it a war of Palestinians against Israel. Instead, the barbaric onslaught marked the beginning of an Iranian war against Israel, carried out by Tehran’s terrorist proxies. The war’s future course and duration are murky, but the ayatollahs’ underlying strategy is clear: close their long-envisioned “ring of fire” around Israel, permanently weakening or even paralyzing the Jewish State.

Jerusalem’s leaders and most neighboring Arab rulers grasp this reality. Sadly, however, the threat has not fully registered throughout the West. Instead, too many decisionmakers see only unrelated regional crises. They worry about an imminent “wider war,” heedless that the wider war began Oct. 7. The West is not thinking strategically about defeating Iran’s coalition, but is distracted by criticisms, often implicitly or explicitly antisemitic, purportedly expressing “humanitarian” concern for Gazans or the hostages Hamas kidnapped.

Also unclear is whether Israel has sufficient resolve to persevere until achieving true peace and security for its people. What Thomas Paine wrote of America now applies to Israel: “these are the times that try men’s souls.”

Consider the politico-military battlefield as it now stands.

Gaza remains the most active front in this multi-front war. Since the Oct. 7 surprise, timed almost exactly to the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, which also caught Israel off-guard, Israel Defense Forces have made steady progress. Right after Oct. 7, U.S. military advisers cautioned the IDF to proceed prudently, minimizing its own and Gazan civilian casualties.

Ironically, given current White House pressure to conclude major Gaza operations quickly, Americans stressed that their campaigns in Iraq to subdue Fallujah and Mosul took between nine and 12 months. This counsel proved wise, especially given the extraordinary tunnel system Hamas had spent 15 years digging under the Gaza Strip, not to benefit Gazans economically but to enable Hamas and its patron Iran to wage war against Israel. Accordingly, diversionary arguments like whether Hamas had command operations under the al-Shifa hospital, which it did, are beside the point. Al-Shifa hospital management and many others undoubtedly knew about Hamas’s activities and intentions.

The continuing debate over whether Iran “ordered” Hamas to attack on Oct. 7, or whether Hamas acted independently, obviously implicates Iran’s role in the broader conflict. Initially, Iran and Hamas vehemently denied Tehran’s leading role, awkwardly coupled with fervent pleas of mutual support. Now, even this pretense is gone.

Iran’s foreign minister recently threatened that, “if the U.S. continues its military, political and financial support of Israel and helps manage Israel’s military attacks on Palestinian civilians, then it must face its consequences.” Qassem Soleimani and his Quds Force worked for years to bring Iran’s terrorist proxies across the Middle East into closer alignment, arguing correctly that greater coordination and joint strategies would increase their collective threat to Israel. That has now come to pass.

Moreover, debate about Iran “ordering” Hamas is misplaced. Politico-military alliances rarely have rigid hierarchical structures. America leads NATO, but no one seriously believes Washington “orders” the other allies. Extensive planning and coordination precede most NATO decisions. Doubtless, senior political and military leaders in Tehran are frustrated with Hamas and others not seeing things exactly as they do, but friction and contention among coalition members cannot obscure the ultimate locus of power.

The other belligerent terrorist groups also act at Iran’s behest. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, for example, could not endanger commercial shipping or Western naval vessels in the Red Sea without Iranian arming, equipping, training and financing. The Houthis’ geographical location affords them enormous leverage over the southern Red Sea, and therefore the Suez Canal, through which 12 to 15 percent of the world’s trade (and some 30 percent of container-shipping traffic) passes. Insurance rates and prices on a wide variety of goods are rising and will increase as the conflict continues.

In recent years, Houthis launched Iranian drones and missiles against civilian airfields and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, giving Iran launching platforms in the backyards of its Gulf Arab foes. The Houthis are a threat because of what Iran provides. Iran is not doing so as charity for Houthis, but to advance Tehran’s own interests. On January 11-12, after months of inaction, a U.S.-led coalition finally struck at Houthis targets in Yemen. Whether this long-delayed military response will suffice to deter further Iran-Houthi depredations remains to be seen.

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The West may now have no option but to attack Iran

Tehran will only accept it has miscalculated if it faces significant costs for its recent acts of aggression

Houthi attacks on commercial shipping and US Navy vessels in the Red Sea threaten the global economy, endangering the vital Suez Canal trade route. As if 14 such attacks in the past month, and against Israel directly, were not enough, Iran has now joined the fray. The Pentagon said on December 23 that an Iranian-launched drone struck an Israeli-affiliated merchant ship in the Indian Ocean.

This marks the first time since October 7 that Washington has directly blamed Iran, even with over 100 attacks on US personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iran-dependent Shia militia, on which the White House has fudged in assigning responsibility. Tehran denied the Indian Ocean attack, repeating its mantra that Hamas operates independently in warring against Israel. Nevertheless, India deployed guided-missile destroyers to the region, and seeks more evidence on the vector of the attack.

Just after Christmas, however, Iran committed the classic “Washington gaffe” – i.e., telling the truth accidentally – when the Revolutionary Guard Corps reportedly described Hamas’s barbaric assault as “one of the acts of revenge for the assassination of General [Qassem] Soleimani by the US and the Zionists”. Hamas immediately denied the linkage, no more credibly than the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ subsequent effort to walk back its revealing “revenge” declaration.

The critical truth here is that Iran has directly committed an act of war against what it believed was an Israeli target. While hardly comparable to Hamas’s barbarity, Hizbollah and Houthi attacks, or Iran’s own massive arms and intelligence support, Tehran has now crossed the line of armed hostilities. The West’s operating assumption should be to expect more of the same. Iran has, for example, recently threatened shutting down commercial shipping across the Mediterranean. It is Iranian belligerence driving potential escalation, not Western self-defence.

The Biden administration, much of the media, and Iran’s propagandists will probably continue ignoring the reality of who is calling the shots in this conflict. But the evidence is growing inexorably that October 7 was intended to draw Jewish blood to implement Soleimani’s “ring of fire” strategy, with Iran pressing Israel on multiple fronts, directing operations via terrorists and state actors it has armed, trained, and financed.

Iran’s near-term objectives remain opaque. Was Hamas’s brutal surprise attack a one-off gambit, to see if Israel’s government collapsed; to assess Western support for Israel; to block an Israeli-Saudi exchange of full diplomatic relations; or some combination? Was Iran waiting to see if Israel became bogged down militarily in Gaza, and then decide its next step? Or was Hamas simply the first Iran surrogate to launch? Hizbollah has fired rockets and mortars ever since, forcing Israel to evacuate civilians from a two-kilometer-wide strip along the Lebanon border. While Hizbollah has not yet initiated a full-fledged attack, it has husbanded its arsenal, perhaps awaiting the opportune moment.

Both Houthi and Shia militia attacks have been met with only feeble and ineffective Western responses. Neither Hamas, nor Houthis, nor Iraqi militia have yet prompted the US or Israel to retaliate directly against Iran. Obviously, Tehran does not feel pressured enough to restrain its expendable surrogates, proving that the West has not established conditions for deterrence, thereby potentially cooling the conflict down. The White House and its media stenographers repeat endlessly that they do not want the current hostilities to spread, but Biden’s non-strategy, based on hope, will not succeed.

Only if Israel, America, Britain, and others show they possess the resolve and capability to impose significant costs on Iran, as punishment for its aggression, will they persuade the ayatollahs that proceeding further will bring them intolerable pain. Very likely, only direct military force, applied against critical targets inside Iran, will impose such costs, proving to Tehran it has miscalculated not only about Israel, but on President Biden and the West more generally. That is why the evidence of a direct Iranian attack on a commercial ship in the Indian Ocean is potentially so important.

It has been clear for years that overthrowing the mullahs, replacing them with some other form of government that enjoys the support of Iran’s citizenry, is central to decreasing insecurity throughout the Middle East. Arab funding of terrorist actions against Israel is hard to find today, especially as full, open diplomatic relations with Jerusalem continue to expand. If Iran’s line of credit to the likes of Hamas, Hizbollah, the Houthis, and other barbarians disappears, their ability to survive except in remote Afghan encampments will palpably decrease.

That is the outcome Washington and London should seek. Instead of pushing Israel for more “pauses”, “truces”, “ceasefires” or the like, allow Jerusalem to achieve its legitimate objective of eliminating Hamas as a military and political force. That is one sure way to convince the ayatollahs their gambit has failed, and their own end may be near.

This article was first published in The Telegraph on December 28, 2023. Click here to read the original article.

ABOUT JOHN BOLTON

Ambassador John Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. He served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 2005-2006. He was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security from 2001 to 2005. In the Reagan Administration, he was an Assistant Attorney General.