Last week the Trump administration initiated a series of hard-hitting measures aimed at putting the enemies of the United States on notice that it would no longer be business as usual at the White House. No longer would the United States allow itself to be subjected to indignities with impunity. There would now be a heavy price to pay for attempts to subvert the interests of the United States and its allies.
On October 10, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism Nathan A. Sales, announced that the United States would be placing bounties of $7 million and $5 million respectively on the heads of two senior Hezbollah members Talal Hamiyah and Fu’ad Shukr. Hamiyah is the organization’s commander for overseas terror operations which target U.S. and Israeli interests. Shukr is a senior Hezbollah commander who has taken an active role in perpetrating atrocities in Syria and was also involved in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which resulted in the deaths of 241 service members.
Sales also directed criticism against countries which absurdly make distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings. He bluntly stated that Hezbollah has no political organization and the group in its entirety is “rotten to its core.”
The new robust approach vis-à-vis Hezbollah is refreshing and stands in marked contrast with the way the Obama administration dealt with the notorious terrorist organization. In its zeal to strike a bargain with Iran and maintain détente with the world’s premier state sponsor of international terrorism, the Obama administration treated the Iranian proxy terror arm with kid gloves.
In September 2016, former secretary of state John Kerry met with Syrian opposition members and tried to convince them to focus their energies on ISIS while steering clear of Hezbollah. During the exchange with the oppositionists he blurted, “Hezbollah is not plotting against us.” It was a shocking display of abject ignorance underscored by the fact that barely nine months later, the U.S. Justice Department announced the arrest of two Hezbollah operatives in New York and Michigan, who were plotting to carry out terror attacks against the United States.
Two days after Sales’ press conference, the State Department announced that it would be withdrawing from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The decision was made only after UNESCO, led by its Muslim bloc, passed a series of ludicrous and pernicious resolutions aimed at severing the Jewish (and Christian) nexus to holy sites in Israel and territories administered by Israel.
The multiple resolutions Islamicized Jewish and Christian holy sites. They referred to Jerusalem as “occupied territory” while the Rachel’s Tomb, a site revered by Jews world over for over 3,000 years, was referred to as the “Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque” and a “Palestinian site.” This despite the fact that even Muslims had always historically regarded Rachel’s Tomb as a revered Jewish site. But UNESCO’s outrages and historical mendacity didn’t end there. In July, the body designated the burial site of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah – the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs – as an endangered “Palestinian Heritage Site” ignoring the fact that while the site was under Muslim rule, Muslim guards refused Jewish worshipers entry beyond the seventh step leading to site’s entrance.
The July resolution was particularly egregious because it disregarded a recommendation issued by the International Council of Monuments and Sites highlighting a number of problems with the proposed UNESCO resolution.
The move to withdraw from UNESCO was spearheaded by Nikki Haley, Trump’s indefatigable U.N. ambassador. Unlike her Obama-appointed predecessors, Haley has taken a proactive approach in dealing with UN’s inherent anti-Israel, anti-Western biases. In the short span that she’s been at her post, she has scored impressive results and changed the tenor at the body. In fact, the U.S. announcement to withdraw from UNESCO may have had a positive influence on a crucial vote for the leadership of UNESCO the following day.
After several voting rounds, two candidates for UNESCO’s Director-General spot emerged – France’s Audrey Azoulay, who is also of Jewish descent, and Qatar’s rabidly anti-Semitic Hamad Bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari. Azoulay was a dark horse but surprisingly prevailed over her anti-Semitic rival by a vote of 30-28. Divisions within the Arab world no doubt worked in Azoulay’s favor; the Saudis and their allies despise Qatar. Nevertheless, the State Department’s announcement likely jolted some of UNESCO’s members into voting for the saner choice. It is too early to tell what effect, if any, Azoulay will have on UNESCO but the U.S. decision to withdraw does not go into effect until the end of December giving the State Department some time to assess whether UNESCO will alter its mendacious, anti-Israel, agenda-driven trajectory.
The day after the State Department served notice of its intent to withdraw from UNESCO, Trump delivered a speech in which he announced that he could no longer certify Iran’s compliance with the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran deal. He noted a litany of Iranian transgressions since the execution of the JCPOA which violated both the letter and spirit of the agreement. Trump also announced that he had instructed his Treasury Department to institute new sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, its agents and affiliates. Since much of Iran’s economy is controlled or utilized by the IRGC, such a sanctions regimen would have teeth.
The Trump administration wants to re-negotiate aspects of the deal which work heavily in Iran’s favor. The deal in its current form contains a sunset clause in which key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire, providing the Islamic Republic with a legal pathway toward producing nuclear bombs. Essentially, Obama kicked the can down the road and irresponsibly placed the very real prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran in the hands of the next administration.
Trump understandably wants to dispense with sunset clauses and wants to transform the deal into something more permanent. He also wants a more verifiable inspection regimen. The deal allows the Iranians up to 24 days to sanitize a site slated for inspection. Moreover, other Iranian military sites, like the highly opaque Parchin facility, where Iran conducts its most secretive experiments, are off limits to international inspectors.
Lastly, Trump wants the deal to incorporate a moratorium on Iranian ballistic missile development and testing. The JCPOA does not directly address the issue of Iran’s ballistic missiles. Instead, the prohibition on Iranian ballistic missile development is covered by a separate and rather weak and ineffectual UN Security Council resolution and the Iranians continue to defy it with impunity. It is now up to the Senate to enact legislation that comports with the administration’s goals and objectives.
The flurry of measures undertaken by the Trump administration this past week, including actions targeting the IRGC and Hezbollah as well as the de-certification of the JCPOA and the moves at UNESCO demonstrate in no uncertain terms that the US will make its enemies account for their nefarious activities. It is a refreshing change from the pusillanimous policies pursued by the past administration.