LISTEN: What will happen to Israel-Arab relations, and the Iran Nuclear Deal, post-elections? Former Ambassador Michael Oren says the stakes are very high
The first time I ever heard Michael Oren speak was at a conference at Bar Ilan University in June 2008, eleven months before Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed him to be Israel’s ambassador to the United States. At the time, the US was still mired in the War on Terror that followed 9/11. Oren, who is also an historian, noted this wasn’t the first time Americans were engaged in battle against Muslims in the Middle East.
Oren talked about the Barbary Wars, which began shortly after America declared its independence from Britain. Pirates from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and the Algiers attacked American merchant ships in the Mediterranean, holding their sailors for ransom. This posed a major threat to the economy of the fledgling country. If you think we have strong differences of opinion today in how to deal with state sponsors of terror, it was no different back then.
John Adams, America’s second president, recommended paying ransom to the pirates to release the American ships. His vice president, Thomas Jefferson advocated going to war, which is exactly what Jefferson did when he became president, after Adams.
More than 200 years later, today’s presidential candidates are also battling over how to deal with the leading sponsor of global terror, Iran.
This debate often falls along the conservative versus liberal political divide. Joe Biden has promised to renew the nuclear deal with Iran that President Trump trashed. We don’t know exactly what Trump might do, but Oren says it remains challenging to this day to explain to both liberal American Jews and US politicians exactly why Iran is such a menace to Israel.
Michael Oren also said Israel cannot become complacent even if Trump wins re-election. The president, and his top aides, have set a goal of bringing Iran back to the negotiating table. Which means Israel will eventually have to make its red lines clear and transparent to the US.
Today, Oren keeps busy consulting with the different parties to Trump’s peace process, including Arab nations. So coming at this from a counterintuitive direction, I asked Oren if it was possible that a Biden victory next week would spur other Arab nations who are currently sitting on the fence, mainly Saudi Arabia, to strike a deal with Israel in Trump’s final days.
BR: Michael this Binyamin Rose from Mishpacha Magazine, how are you today?
MO: I've been doing alright.
BR: My question is what happens if Trump loses do we see perhaps a rush all of a sudden from several remaining Arab countries, Saudi Arabia in particular, to try to close deals with Israel before Trump leaves power, knowing that Biden is going to come in and change everything back?
MO: Is it very important question I'm grappling with pretty much on a daily basis because a Biden victory can cut two ways. And by the way, it could cost also both ways. One is as I've said before it's quite natural for an incoming Administration to adopt the AB position — which is 'anything but.' So when Obama came in was 'anything but Bush' and when Trump can it was 'anything but Obama.' So Biden would come in, and be 'anything but Trump' and since Trump was seen as The Godfather to will, the sponsor of these peace agreements, then it would be natural for a Biden administration to pull back, that this was his doing we're not going to have anything to do with that. And so the next administration, if it was a Democratic Administration, would not be willing to invest as heavily in building and strengthening these ties. And I can think of a number of initiatives which are now being discussed business initiatives economic exchanges, which I cannot with any certainty say would actually take place under a Biden administration.
BR: But does a Biden victory make some of these countries jump, like Saudi Arabia in particular?
Oren said he has worked closely with both Biden and Harris. Out of all the candidates who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, he says they were the most pro-Israel, with perhaps the exception of Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, and that both Biden and Harris vowed never to use American aid to Israel as a lever to pressure Israel. What about the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, who will enjoy outsized influence in a Biden administration?
Oren says for now, we are in a holding pattern awaiting what happens after the election. Will the US remain invested in these new bilateral relations, under Trump, or will the emphasis revert to the Palestinian issue, under Biden?
Exclusive to Mishpacha.com
Oops! We could not locate your form.