Joe Biden has become the 46th president of the United States. He will face many challenges on the global stage. The Middle East, for one, can be counted on to provide multiple crises and opportunities for America. Below, we examine the most significant of them.
In the past six months four Arab-Muslim majority states normalized relations with the Jewish state. They proceeded to establish diplomatic and commercial relations with Israel; they include Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sudan, and Morocco. The question now is whether the Biden administration will continue this trend, and extend peace between Israel and additional Arab-Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. Previous assumptions by U.S. administrations have been that Arab states will only make peace with Israel if the Palestinian issue was resolved. President Donald Trump defied this premise, and proved that regional peace between Arab states and Israel mustn’t wait for Palestinian approval, or compliance with its maximalist demands that know no compromise.
While previous U.S. administrations have sought to bring about a two-state solution that gave the Palestinian leadership veto power, the Trump administration realized that waiting for the Palestinians to compromise might require waiting for the messianic age. In July, 2000, President Bill Clinton arranged the Camp David Two Summit with the purpose of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He summoned Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat (also President of the Palestinian Authority-PA), and Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak to the secluded camp. The latter (Barak) made far reaching concessions, witnessed and appreciated by President Clinton. Arafat didn’t agree to “end the conflict,” he chose instead to initiate the Second violent Intifada. This was repeated eight years later when Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert, who made even greater concessions to Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen), President of the PA. He too would not agree to end the conflict.
The Biden administration may seek to incentivize the Palestinians with financial rewards, but that will not work, just as President Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” which was meant to uplift the lives of the Palestinian people, failed. Trump realized then that he had to bypass the rejectionist Palestinian leadership. Antony Blinken, the Biden administration nominee for Secretary of State said this in December, 2020. “This isn’t 2009, it’s not 2014 and it’s not 2017. The parties are far from a place where they’re ready to engage on negotiations or final status talks.” It appears that President Biden is showing interest in expanding the peace between the moderate Sunni-Arab states and Israel, but the mantra of the Two-State solution is still the pervasive line in Washington. He will not, however, be in a rush to get involved in the Middle East. Domestic priorities override everything.
The Biden administration may not reverse President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital nor relocate the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv. Biden is more than likely restore the Palestinian mission in Washington DC, closed by Trump. Biden might also reverse Trump’s cutoff of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Established in 1949, to care for Palestinian refugees, it was expected to complete its work in one year. Now, 71 years later, UNRWA is still being funded by the UN despite its malignant role as a training ground for Palestinian terrorists, and a hotbed for dissemination of anti-Semitic hatred toward Israel and Jews. Moreover, in its 71 years, it failed to settle a single refugee. By way of contrast, the UN main refugee organization – The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), managed to resettle more than 50 million refugees. But, aside from UNRWA’s failure to perform its mission, it is rife with corruption and mismanagement. Hence, in addition to the U.S., the Netherlands, and Switzerland have also suspended funding for UNRWA.
Perhaps more critical, and clearly an existential issue for Israel, and for the security of the world, is a nuclear Iran. Iran is not only violating the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) with world powers, it is testing long-range ballistic missiles, and has positioned rockets in Syria capable of hitting every corner of Israel. Moreover, the Islamic Republic of Iran is engaged in global terror. It is using its own agents or such proxies as the Lebanese-based Hezbollah terrorist group.
Biden has written that, “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the U.S. would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow on negotiations, and lift the sanctions on Iran that Trump imposed.”
Richard Nephew, a former top sanctions official involved in the negotiations with Iran during the Obama administration, pointed out that Iran’s announcement of a 20% Uranium enrichment will shorten the breakout time it would take Iran to produce weapons-grade fuel for a nuclear bomb, which is currently estimated to be about six months or less. With a sufficient stockpile of enriched uranium at a 20% level, the Iranians could “potentially narrow the breakout time to about a month and a half.”
Iran is enriching a half-kilo of uranium daily. According to Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Iran is producing half a kilo of 20% enriched uranium per day. Salehi, in an interview with the Persian language website Khamenei.ir, said, “Based on the latest news I have, they (Iranian scientists at nuclear installations) are producing 20 grams of 20% enriched uranium; every hour, meaning that practically, we are producing half a kilo every day.” While it might appear as if Iran is increasing the pressure on the U.S. to rejoin the JCPOA and lift the sanctions, it may also be true that the radical Iranian regime seeks to have a bomb at all costs.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that “Iran’s decision to continue violating its commitments, to raise the enrichment level and advance its industrial ability to enrich uranium underground, cannot be explained in any way except as continued realization of its intention to develop a military nuclear program.”
Iranian arrogance has no boundaries. According to the Iranian regime’s mouthpiece Fars News Agency (January 20, 2021) Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, “There is no need to negotiations at all …if they (Americans) remove the sanctions, there will be no problem from our view.” Zarif reiterated earlier (January 18, 2021) that Iran would not change even a single word of the agreement. He added, that the “U.S. needs to pay reparations for the damage it has inflicted on Iran.”
For the Ayatollahs of Iran who invented the slogans of “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” the goal is to terrorize both the Middle East and the rest of the world with nuclear weapons. Even if the Iranians do not intend to use its nukes, they have precision-guided missiles that pose an immediate threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as well as to U.S. forces in the region. The Biden administration, while seeking a rapprochement with Iran, should leverage sanction relief from Trump’s “Maximum Pressure,” for a much stronger nuclear deal than the 2015 JCPOA. A deal should curb Iran’s precision-missile exports, terror sponsorship, and erase the sunset clause of the JCPOA.
President Biden must consider the fact that even without nukes, Iran keeps challenging and provoking the U.S. and Israel. Imagine then, how horrific it would be if Iran got a nuclear bomb.
Joseph Puder, a freelance journalist, is the founder and executive director of the Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel (ITAI).