US Capitol riot stains Trump’s Middle East legacy on Iran, Abraham Accords

Dani Dayan called Trump's policy's over the last four years “a diplomatic miracle for Israel and a car wreck for American democracy.”

Supporters of US President Donald Trump gather in Washington at Capitol (photo credit: SHANNON STAPLETON/ REUTERS)
Supporters of US President Donald Trump gather in Washington at Capitol
US President Donald Trump’s diplomatic clock stopped 13 days short, and his legacy including in the Middle East is in question in the aftermath of a violent insurrection by his supporters at the US Capitol building on Wednesday.
At issue in particular for Israel is Iran and the Abraham Accords. For the Israeli Right, there is the expanded palette of Trump’s policies in support of West Bank settlements, his recognition of Golan Heights sovereignty, and his relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem
Given US President-elect Joe Biden’s opposition to Trump’s diplomatic agenda, Trump’s administration should have spent these last critical days shoring up its policies in advance of the Biden presidency on January 20.
Speculation had been high that perhaps an additional Israeli normalization deal could be signed in this period, or further moves taken to weaken Tehran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. This had even included fearful speculation of a possible joint Israeli-US military activity against Iran.
The five hours in which world attention was riveted on a violent assault on US democracy on Wednesday robbed Trump of any moral leadership to act diplomatically. It may even have cost him his constitutional ability to do so, should Article 25 in the US Constitution be invoked to remove him from office.
At stake, however, is not just an additional 13 days to cement policies believed to be in Israel’s existential and/or right-wing interest.
Wednesday’s events casts doubt on Trump’s four years of diplomacy in the Middle East, including his rejection of the 2015 Iran deal, and his creation of Israeli-Arab normalization deals through the rubric of the Abraham Accords. In the past few months, deals for full diplomatic relations were signed with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. Ties were reestablished with Morocco and a full normalization deal is pending.
Trump’s failure to swiftly condemn Wednesday’s violence and/or show an understanding of the danger it posed to US democracy and the country’s standing as the leader of the free world, however, now calls into question his ability to accurately assess larger diplomatic issues, including ones relevant to Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anticipated difficult task to sway the Biden administration to retain Trump’s policies is now likely akin to mission impossible.
Biden has already said he would keep the US Embassy in Jerusalem. But he has spoken of wanting to return to the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and he is opposed to West Bank settlements.
A number of former Israeli diplomats said that Wednesday’s actions cast a stain on those policies, but it was unclear the extent to which it eliminated them.
“Every administration comes into the office with the ‘anything but’ approach,” said former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren.
Former US president Barack Obama acted that way with regard to the policies of his predecessor George Bush, explained Oren, who was in Washington from 2009-2013.
“Trump came in [to office] with the ‘anything but Obama [approach].’ But now, I think that the ‘anything but’ principle would be more rigorously applied. It’s not just anything but Trump, it is anything but the assault on American democracy, and that makes it much more difficult” when it comes to retaining Trump’s policies, Oren said.
This would include aspects of the Abraham Accords, which placed the emphasis on developing Israel’s relations with the Arab world and diverted attention away from the Israeli-Palestinian track, he explained.
“For those in the administration who would rather put the emphasis back on the Palestinian issue and away from these bilateral accords, this will strengthen their hand,” he said.
Dani Dayan, who served as Israel’s Consul General in New York from 2016-2020, said that even before Wednesday, Trump’s policies had always been a paradox, with actions that were “a diplomatic miracle for Israel and a car wreck for American democracy.”
The last four years for Israel were marked by flourishing relations with the US and incredible diplomatic achievements, Dayan said, but for American democracy “it was a terrible period that I assume the nation will try to forget.”
It is correct to say that “the policies of Donald Trump are now tainted,” and “maybe they will have less lasting repercussions than otherwise,” Dayan said.
Nevertheless, Trump was the president of the US, and as such his statements, actions and peace plans leave a mark, said Dayan.
“Important diplomatic actions do not die, sometimes they disappear for a period and then reappear,” Dayan said. “The Trump administration was a legitimate administration and its diplomatic actions were legitimate” and are not lost.
Polices such as the[Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo Declaration that recognized the legitimacy of the Israeli settlements and the administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights would not automatically disappear on January 20, he said.
With respect to Iran, Biden has long supported the JCPOA, which was put in place by the Obama administration when Biden was vice president.
Any Democratic president would try to return to the JCPOA, he said.
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval, who served from 1990-1993 and from 1998-2000, said the issue was broader than one policy or another.
He was among those who supported Trump’s Middle East policies, and thought Biden would do well to build on them.
The larger issue, he said, is that Wednesday’s shocking events casts a shadow on America’s ability to lead, and “this will lower the prestige of the US. In Beijing, and Moscow, and Tehran, they are now rubbing their hands with a great deal of happiness.”
This, he said, was not good either for Israel or the world.
“A weakened America is not good for any of us,” Shoval added.
Israel is often proud of its ability to stand on its own militarily. But its ability to do so as well as its position in general in the Middle East is also cemented by its strong relationship with the US.
An event such as Wednesday, which threatens to weaken the US and its world standing, is also one that can boomerang back onto Israel if not quickly brought into check.