A year after Mideast peace, America is missing in action
The Middle East appears to be as combustible as ever, even on the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, heralded as a new era in relations between Israel and the Arab world.
America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan is an embarrassing nightmare to the world’s largest superpower and scares the daylights out of a region that dreads a Taliban takeover.
Iran’s new leadership continues to vex the US, goading the Biden administration to lift the sanctions that have crippled the regime’s economy while daring not to sign any nuclear agreement, no matter how many American concessions it contains.
Preoccupied as they are, it’s understandable that the Biden administration and the State Department let the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords slide by with just one tweet and one bland paragraph in a press release.
Israel, on other hand, grabbed the initiative, getting year two of the Abraham Accords off to a fast start. Israel hosted Bahrain’s undersecretary of international relations for a four-day visit. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid jetted to Morocco to sign agreements furthering bilateral relations.
Lapid’s media team showed some improvement over their performance a month ago in the UAE when they lost face with weak translations into English. This time, they fed Lapid a line that Israeli diplomacy “created a circle of life against the terrorist circle of death of Iran.”
Lapid, a master of the glib line from his days as a television news anchor, is actually onto something here. The interconnected interests of Morocco, Israel, and the US — with the Iranian threat lurking in the background — emboldened Morocco to join hands with Israel.
The key to the deal was the Trump administration’s recognition of Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara, a sparsely inhabited desert land along Morocco’s southwest border that was also claimed by neighboring Mauritania. A third party — a guerrilla group called the Polisario Front, aided and abetted by Iran — also demanded the territory for an independent state.
Purists would use the derogatory term “transactional diplomacy” to describe the deal, but it was truly a win-win. Morocco gained Western Sahara, Israel won diplomatic recognition from an important Arab country, and the US dealt Iran a setback in its bid for an African proxy from which it could project power and export terror.
“Successful diplomacy depends on whether you address the vital interests of a country,” said Dore Gold, a former Israeli envoy to the Gulf states and director-general of the Foreign Ministry under Binyamin Netanyahu. “It would be better if diplomacy didn’t have to depend on such hard realpolitik, but that’s the reality of the world we’re in.”
Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, made his remarks at a Zoom news conference for foreign media the day Lapid took off for Morocco. Gold also hosted the Bahraini foreign ministry official for a working luncheon at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, where the two shared common concerns over Iran while seeking ways to build on the Abraham Accords.
The US and Israel have undergone major political transformations in the 365 days since the announcement of the Abraham Accords. Both architects of the accords, Donald Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu, have been ousted from power.
While Israel’s new government tries to gain traction, the Biden administration is hazy when it comes to brokering any new deals between Israel and Arab entities other than the one called the Palestinian Authority.
To win back the same confidence that Trump inspired, the Biden administration must craft a coherent foreign policy that looks forward to the next decade rather than peering backward at the last one.
“If America stays the course and supports its allies in the Middle East — like Bahrain, for example — and doesn’t pull back from the region, then I think we have a good chance of expanding the Abraham Accords to new countries,” Gold said. “But if the US is seen as pulling back, then it’s going to be much more challenging, [especially] for the state of Israel.”
One of those challenges came into sharper focus during last week’s flurry of diplomatic activity, when CIA director William Burns met with his Israeli counterparts in the Mossad to discuss developments on Iran.
Little news was leaked from these spy versus spy meetings, but one item that did make the rounds was that even the Americans are now skeptical of coming to terms with Iran under its newly elected president, Ebrahim Raisi.
The Abraham Accords might be in abeyance, but it’s premature to conclude that the Ebrahim Accords are on permanent hold.
While acknowledging President Raisi is an extremist, and that logic dictates he would be unbending in negotiations, Dore Gold reminded reporters with short memories that the Obama administration first launched contacts with Iran over a nuclear deal in 2013 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president.
“So you can have a hardliner in the presidency in Iran, and if the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wants to ‘experiment’ with negotiations with the US, I wouldn’t rule it out,” Gold said.
It bears mention that back in 2013, it was the same William Burns, then serving as deputy secretary of state, who avidly pursued the Iran deal, in tandem with Jake Sullivan, now a top Biden foreign policy advisor.
While the Obama administration exuded optimism that after inking the deal, Iran would pursue a moderate course, the exact opposite occurred.
“When the sanctions were removed from Iran, there was new money available for various organizations backed by Iran that engaged in terrorism, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis, and therefore, rather than stabilizing the region, the deal destabilized the region,” Gold said.
Will America learn from its mistakes, or will it make the same mistake twice?
“It’s something we have to watch,” Gold said. “We have to monitor and we have to explain to our American allies how dangerous Iran is for the whole region.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 874)
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