What is Biden’s potential impact on Israel and the Middle East? - opinion

Reviewing the foreign policy achievements of Biden's nominated secretary of state, Anthony Blinken.

Antony Blinken, US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, speaks as Biden announces his national security team at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware on November 24, 2020. (photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS)
Antony Blinken, US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, speaks as Biden announces his national security team at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware on November 24, 2020.
(photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS)
How will an administration under Joe Biden impact Israel and the Middle East?  Antony Blinken, US president Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state, is the incoming secretary of state. Out of office, he founded a strategic consultancy firm called WestExec Advisors. They represented global corporations and foreign governments, helping gain access to the White House and top government officials. His website boasted that “WestExec conveys our shared commitment to our country, to each other and to our clients.”
Blinken reflects what US President Donald Trump euphemistically called “the Washington swamp.” In office, Blinken made human rights a cornerstone in formulating foreign policy. Let’s see how that worked out:
Under Hillary Clinton, Obama and Biden in the White House, a decision was made to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power and let the Libyan people set their own destiny. This, despite the fact that Gaddafi had renounced his nuclear ambitions and was reaching out to the West. In 2011, The US led a NATO military attack against Libya on the pretext of “protecting civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.”
The result was a disaster. Gaddafi was deposed and killed, Libya descended into a warring hellhole of rival Islamist and nationalist groups, and US ambassador John Christopher Stephens was murdered at the Benghazi US Consulate. The State Department failed to rescue the ambassador and his security team. When news of their fate was released, Blinken’s State Department employed a fake human rights story to cover up their fatal failure by blaming the assault on a bunch of protester angry at an amateur video that insulted Islam.
The Arab Spring
As protests spread across the Muslim world against corrupt leaders, the State Department celebrated it as a positive expression of human rights. They called it the Arab Spring. In Israel, strategic experts, who understand the undercurrents of the Muslim world, told American and European diplomats, “You’ve got your seasons wrong. This is the start of the Islamic Winter.”
When the protests grew in Egypt, Blinken – then vice president Biden’s national security adviser – and others urged Obama to get “on the right side of history” by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood had hijacked students’ peaceful protests and violently targeted the police and government institutions that eventually toppled Mubarak’s regime. They imprisoned thousands and, in less than two years, had ruined Egypt’s economy driving millions into poverty.
The Obama administration and State Department failed to feel the mood of the Egyptian people. One month after Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood leader, was sworn in as Egyptian President, protesters pelted Clinton’s motorcade with tomatoes during her July 2012 visit to Cairo.
The army, under general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, staged a popular coup. They arrested the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, restored law and order and began to forge a more stable Egypt.
This did not sit well with Obama, who said of America’s response to Sisi’s popular victory, “we can’t be seen as aiding and abetting actions we think run contrary to our values and ideals.”
US military aid to Egypt was stopped. It led to a divide between the White House, the State Department and a Defense Department that advocated maintaining US aid to Egypt.
By 2015, Sisi had reached out to Russia for a large military aid program to be paid by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Egypt’s allies in the region. Obama’s team wilted and renewed US military aid to Egypt. Sisi celebrated by flying the first delivery of American F-16s over Cairo. A triumphant gesture perceived in Egypt as Sisi’s victory over Obama.
By the fall of 2013, Syria had plunged into a sectarian civil war and Assad was slaughtering his people with chemical weapons. Obama threatened Assad against using such weapons. A deal was struck to remove chemical reserves from Syria.
Blinken, as deputy secretary of state under John Kerry, said, “Imagine what Syria would look like without that deal. It would be awash in chemical weapons, which would fall into the hands of ISIS, al-Nusra or other groups.”
He may have been right, but that did not stop the devious Assad from inflicting a sarin attack, killing an estimated 80 civilians. Obama was tested but failed to respond.
“We always knew we had not gotten everything,” Blinken admitted.
It took Trump to punish Assad when he launched combined attacks in 2016 and 2017, destroying Syria’s chemical weapon facilities.
If human rights were a cornerstone of the Obama administration, it was sadly missing when it came to Iran. When mass protests erupted across Iran, Obama kept silent. The State Department in which Blinken served failed to stand affirmatively with the Iranian protesters. The opposition Green Movement was brutally crushed and has never been reconstituted. Instead, they bent over backward to appease the Tehran leadership with a highly criticized nuclear deal cemented by the delivery of $150 Billion that enabled the Republic Guard to brutally advance Iranian hegemony across the Middle East and down into Yemen. There is nothing to indicate that Blinken will maintain Trump’s tough stance on Tehran. The inclusion of Wendy Sherman – the architect of the Iran nuclear deal – as deputy secretary of state indicates that Biden’s approach to the Iranian problem will be regressive rather than a continuation of the isolation and weakening of the rogue regime.
Israel and the Palestinians
Trump has been the most pro-Israel president since Harry Truman. His achievements have been many and Trump’s Abraham Accord initiative is sufficient reason to reward him with a Nobel Peace Prize. That is a hard act to follow and it is doubtful that Blinken can help Biden achieve that status, not with Biden’s declared aim of refunding an unapologetic Palestinian Authority that continues to promote their “Pay to Slay” policy, which rewards their killers. This despite the Taylor Force Act, named after an American stabbed to death by a rampaging Palestinian on Tel Aviv’s beachfront, a bill introduced by President Trump to disincentivize the PA from this heinous policy.
The Democrats’ manifesto also declared that they would reopen the PA Washington bureau and the US consulate in Jerusalem to serve Palestinians, despite having a new embassy there, thanks to Trump. All this with no demand for the Palestinians to desist from promoting terror and instead recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Former defense secretary, Robert Gates, said of Biden, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
By default, one can say the same about Blinken. Policy meetings took place in the White House Situation Room in which Blinken participated. The results were poor.
Blinken, as secretary of state, must insist that Iran remove its powerful precision missiles from Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. A nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to the existence of Israel, but the presence of these lethal weapons pose an immediate danger to Israeli civilian centers and vital infrastructure.
Perhaps Blinken can spend the next four years trying to convince the Palestinian leadership to change its behavior and ideology, and recognize and normalize their relationship with Israel, as moderate Arab and Muslim states have done, rather than push Israel into a corner, because peace with the Palestinians is impossible without it.
Foreign Policy for America (FPA) is an influential policy advocacy group in Washington. It pushes its foreign policy proposals into Congress and the White House, and has some disturbing perspectives on Israel.
Avril Haines, Biden’s CIA chief, and others signed a public letter in 2020 urging the Democratic Party to adopt a more pro-Palestinian language in its platform. By pro-Palestinian Haines did not clarify if the language should be that of the PLO, Hamas or Islamic Jihad in Gaza. If she means the language of the Palestinian Authority, it is an aggressive anti-Israel language back by violence and shared by other malevolent Palestinian factions.
Equally troubling is that Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of J Street, a Jewish group with the overriding policy of creating a Palestinian state on unacceptable (for Israel) 1967 borders, sits on the FPA board of directors. He sees Israel as the obstacle to peace, not PA rejectionism, nor Hamas denial of Israel’s right to exist.
The Foreign Policy for America section on the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict” is copy-pasted from J Street literature. It includes tips on how to persuade Congress to be more sympathetic to the Palestinians.
FPA published a history of the conflict, which it sees as beginning in 1949. They conveniently forgot that Arabs have been murdering Jews since the 1920s. The Oslo Accords were ruined, they say, “by growing settlements in the West Bank, continued Israeli military presence, and a blockage on Gaza.” No mention of decades of Palestinian terrorism, rockets and suicide attacks. Nor does it mention incessant antisemitic rhetoric and incitement, and a stubborn refusal to accept a Jewish presence anywhere in the Jewish state.
FPA avoids mention of the ultimate Palestinian ambition of a state “from the River to the Sea” as if it doesn’t exist. And its top personnel are moving into decisive positions in the Biden administration.
Democratic anti-Israel activists have seeped into the Biden White House. Reema Dodin, a supporter of the anti-Israel BDS movement, is set to be the deputy director of the White House Office for Legislative Affairs. Karen Jean-Pierre, selected to be the White House deputy press secretary, was national spokesperson for the George Soros-sponsored, anti-Israel MoveOn.org. She has accused Israel of “war crimes,” called AIPAC “severely racist,” and praised Democrats who stayed away from the last AIPAC annual conference.
As their agenda unfolds, Israel must be prepared for cold winds to blow in its direction under a Biden administration.■
The writer is the International Public Diplomacy Director at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of many books including ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS & Anti-Semitism’ and ‘1917 – From Palestine to the Land of Israel’