Joe Biden, Congress will face turbulent, combustible Middle East - opinion

A constructive, stabilizing approach will improve American influence and credibility in the Middle East.

THEN-VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in March 2016. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
THEN-VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in March 2016.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Common wisdom holds that the Middle East will be a low-priority item on the Biden administration’s agenda. It may start out that way, but global reality has its own set of rules and a way of intruding, especially in our region.
In fact, the new administration and Congress will face a turbulent, combustible Middle East, despite – or maybe in part because of – the normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
Because I was the first Israeli minister who secretly but officially visited the United Arab Emirates 19 years ago, and have advocated ever since for a strategic alliance between Israel and the Gulf states, I am deeply happy with these normalization agreements.
However, the agents of instability and extremism in the Middle East are not going to sit idly on the sidelines, and these agreements, even if more Arab states join, will not intimidate or deter the enemies of peace. In the past, peace agreements with Israel only spurred them to more violence in order to disrupt the new reality. We Israelis vividly remember the horrible wave of terrorism initiated by Iran in the years after the Oslo agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization signed in 1993.
The region is shadowed by the Iranian threat. As Israel and the Gulf states perceive it, this threat comprises: Iran’s advancement toward nuclear weapons, its military buildup bolstered by the Trump administration’s failure in the UN Security Council to ban arms sales to Iran, and Tehran’s aggressive quest for hegemony in the region. The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s chief nuclear scientist, did not substantially alter the US-Israel-Iran triangle.
The four-years-long intimate political partnership between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump has generated a great deal of anger among America’s Democratic Party policy-makers, and some may allow their anger to ruin their judgment about Iran and its threats. They may try to “punish” Israel’s siding with Trump by implementing a renewed policy of softness toward the ayatollahs’ regime, a policy that failed terribly.
There is no wisdom in Democrats throwing Israel under the Iranian bus just to retaliate for Netanyahu’s behavior of so blatantly favoring the Republican Party.
Let me say it very clearly: No government in Jerusalem, even the most dovish and peace-oriented one, would acquiesce to a nuclear Iran, with radical Islamist hegemony in the Middle East, or tolerate Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, Iraq or Lebanon. Those who ignore or disparage the Israeli fear of a nuclear, aggressive, expansionist Iran will alienate the entire spectrum of Israeli society.
The Biden administration’s new Middle East policy must therefore take into account the grave concerns Israel and the Gulf states harbor about Iran. The administration should intensively consult with them about measures, diplomatic and others, it intends to take regarding Iran. These allies can’t remain “outside the room.”
OVER THE last four years the credibility of the United States and its image as a trustworthy partner have dramatically eroded among its Arab allies in the region. These countries came to the conclusion that they can no longer rely on the United States to counter an aggressive Iran. The killing of IRGC Quds Force Maj.-Gen. Qasem Soleimani did not compensate for the disappointingly feeble American response to the Iranian attack on Aramco oil installations in Abqaiq. Moreover, the massive sale of American arms is not a substitute for a genuine strategic alliance.
If the United States under the Biden administration will grant its blessing to a new regional strategic structure that will include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Israel, America’s military presence and intervention in the Middle East will not be required. This new alliance, based on a combination of economic might and military superiority, will be strong enough to forestall the Iranian danger and to change the military balance in the region.
To deter the forces of extremism and instability in the Middle East, the Biden administration’s regional policy should seek to strengthen America’s traditional allies – the moderate states of the region – bring them together, and weaken and isolate the radical actors, namely, Iran and its proxies.
The United States also has to restore its status as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians, a status destroyed over the last four years. Together with the Arab Quartet (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) and the other members of the Middle East Quartet (US, Russia, United Nations and European Union), it has to resume the effort to achieve the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is absolutely necessary for regional stability. UAE leader Mohammed bin Zayed and King Abdullah of Jordan, both longtime US allies, can substantially support this process.
The Israeli people sincerely cherishes the friendship of the United States. A balanced American policy can transform the relations with Israel from a temporary tactical partnership of politicians – the Trump-Netanyahu model – to a strategic alliance, and restore the bipartisan nature of America’s friendship with Israel.
A constructive, stabilizing approach will improve American influence and credibility in the Middle East.
The writer, a retired IDF general, is a former deputy defense minister and member of several cabinets. He is the chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College.