America, the laughingstock

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The United States has a credibility problem. Put plainly, aside from Israel, no one in the Middle East appears to take the Americans seriously.

Let’s start with the Palestinians.

In the wake of last month’s unity deal concluded between US-backed Fatah and Iran-backed Hamas, US President Donald Trump’s special Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt announced, “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the State of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties – including to disarm terrorists – and commit to peaceful negotiations.”

On Wednesday, the unity deal passed its first test of implementation.

Hamas permitted the US-funded, Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority to take charge of Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt. In exchange the PA is renewing its monthly payments to Hamas – underwritten by US taxpayers to the tune of nearly $500 million a year.

Greenblatt’s statement was stomped on by Fatah leaders. They have spent the better part of the past month attacking Britain for issuing the Balfour Declaration, which facilitated the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel a hundred years ago.

Clearly, the US’s “moderate” Fatah faction isn’t willing to recognize Israel. As for the terrorists from Hamas, they also spit in Greenblatt’s face.

As Hamas gunmen were allowing Fatah personnel to deploy to Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt, Hamas’s top leadership was in Lebanon pledging allegiance to the Iranian regime and to Israel’s destruction.

Salah al-Arouri, the deputy leader of Hamas, embraced Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and thanked him for the Iranian proxy’s support.

Arouri is a resident of Hezbollah’s Beirut stronghold in the city’s Dahia quarter.

While Arouri was hugging Nasrallah, his boss, Hamas terror chief Ismail Haniyeh, was giving a speech nearby at a terror conference.

Haniyeh indicated that the deal with Fatah was just a means to Hamas’s goal of destroying Israel. Hamas, he said, will never concede “one clot of land in Palestine,” and will never recognize Israel.

Hamas and Fatah are right to feel contempt for the US. As events this week proved yet again, there is nothing they can do that will cause the Americans to rethink their support for the PLO and whomever they are in bed with.

Citing US pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on Tuesday to postpone indefinitely Knesset consideration of a government bill that would expand the boundaries of Jerusalem to include some outlying communities beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Israel, he explained, has no interest in getting on the wrong side of the Americans just before they present their peace plan.

So while Hamas and Fatah implement their unity deal, embrace Iran and restate their commitment to Israel’s destruction, Netanyahu is concerned that the Americans will be mad at his government if it dares to advance a plan that would strengthen Israel’s control over land that no Israeli government will ever concede.

As bad as the US position vis-à-vis the Palestinians is, America’s position in Iraq is even more distressing.

Israel fights its own wars. More than 4,400 US servicemen died fighting in Iraq. Nearly 32,000 were wounded. And today, Iraq is more dangerous to the US and its allies than it was in 2003 when the US-led coalition invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein’s murderous Ba’athist regime.

In 2003, the Iraqi military was a shadow of its former self. Under a UN sanctions regime, the Iraqi military was short on training and equipment, and implacably hostile to Iran.

Today, thanks to the US, the Iraqi military is well-trained and well-armed with advanced US weapons. And thanks to former president Barack Obama, the well-armed and well-trained US supported Iraqi military is controlled by Iran.

And as such, it poses a threat to the US, to US allies and to the region that far exceeds the threat Saddam posed in 2003.

The very fact that the Iraqi government and military, which owe their existence to the US, are willing to collaborate with Iran is in itself proof that the US is perceived as at best a paper tiger.

But two stories reported over the past few days show just how brazen their contempt for America has become.

On Tuesday the Iraqi parliament unanimously passed a law requiring law enforcement bodies to pursue criminal charges against “those who promote Zionist symbols in public rallies in any form, including the hoisting of the Zionist flag.”

The measure was introduced by the Iranian-controlled Shi’ite Supreme Islamic Council parliamentary bloc.

The new law means that 14 years after the US invaded Iraq with the declared purpose of bringing freedom to the state that had known nothing but tyranny, demonstrating support for Israel is officially a crime.

The Americans are apparently fine with Iraqi Jew-hatred. Recently the Trump administration announced it will implement the Obama administration’s pledge to return the archive of the Jewish community of Iraq to the Iraqi government. It doesn’t matter to the State Department that the documents were stolen from the Iraqi Jews by regime agents who forced them to flee the county, thus ending 2,600 years of continuous Jewish settlement in Iraq.

Iraq’s new anti-Israeli flag law was directed against the Kurds – the US’s only reliable ally in Iraq.

Owing both to their longstanding warm ties with Israel and to the fact that Israel is the only state that openly backs Kurdish independence and supported the Kurdish independence referendum which 91% of Iraqi Kurds voted for in September, the Kurds are not shy about their love for America’s strongest Middle East ally.

Israel’s flag featured prominently in pro-independence demonstrations throughout Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kurds are now under assault from the government in Baghdad. And the Baghdad government’s operations against the Kurds are being directed in large part by the Iranians.

On Wednesday, The Washington Free Beacon reported on documents secured by Republican lawmakers that show just how powerful a force Iran and its terror armies have become in Iraq.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a veteran of the war in Iraq, showed a photograph of Shi’ite militiamen operating US M1 Abrams tanks draped in a Hezbollah flag. Another photo showed IRGC Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani with US-backed Iraqi militia leaders.

Hunter noted that the US-backed Iraqi militias whose commanders were photographed with Soleimani participated in last month’s offensive against the Kurds.

Michale Pregent, a former senior intelligence officer who served in Iraq, told the Free Beacon that the photograph of the Hezbollah-flag draped Abrams tank proves US forces have trained Hezbollah forces to use the advanced battle tank.

“Any soldier who has driven a tank before knows that you can’t just pick one up on the battlefield and learn to drive it. You have to be trained by an American adviser to do it. And the only way you get that training is if you’re wearing an Iraqi uniform, and these [Iranian controlled] militia brag they can wear any uniform in the Iraqi forces and they’re doing so.”

Hunter said the photos show “we’re equipping and training the wrong people. The State Department is going to lose us Iraq again, in one of the worst ways.

“At best, the State Department has been derelict in their duties,” he said.

“And at the worst,” Hunter said, “they’ve been complicit with helping the Iranians take back what I and my brothers in arms fought for.”

The Trump administration’s complicity with the Iranian takeover of Iraq, like its complicity with Palestinian support for Israel’s destruction, indicates that in the Middle East, the Trump administration has not abandoned the Obama administration’s policies.

Indeed, even in areas where the Trump administration has sought to distance itself from its predecessor, its policies on the ground are still by and large a continuation of Obama’s.

For instance, this week the Trump administration released hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that US special forces seized when they killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011. Despite repeated requests from lawmakers and researchers, the Obama administration refused to release the documents.

As long suspected, the now-public documents reveal that Iran effectively serves as al-Qaida’s state sponsor.

And yet, like its predecessor, the Trump administration pretends that since Iran is Shi’ite and al-Qaida and its successor Islamic State are Sunni, the Iranians can be trusted to work with the US in defeating them. This is why, for instance, the Pentagon had US forces in Lebanon fighting Islamic State and al-Qaida-aligned forces with the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese Armed Forces in a joint Hezbollah-LAF operation.

This is why the US continues to arm and train the Iranian-Hezbollah controlled LAF with advanced weapons just as it arms and trains the Iranian-controlled Iraqi military and its allied Iranian-controlled militia.

It is hard to know whether Trump will ever appoint emissaries who support his desire to base US policy in the Middle East on the realities of the region. But even if he does replace Obama-era holdovers like Brett McGurk, the pro-Iranian US envoy for operations against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, there is no guarantee that Trump’s envoys will change the trajectory of US Middle East policy.

After all, Greenblatt and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner are Trump loyalists. And the only thing they have changed in US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians is the tone of US statements. From a substantive perspective, the US continues to kowtow to the PLO and put the squeeze on Israel not to secure its interests lest doing so harm the nonexistent prospects for a deal between Israel and Hamas’s partner.

Winston Churchill famously said, “You can always trust the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.”

It would seem that in the face of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal, the Iranian takeover of Iraq and the campaign against the US’s Kurdish allies being carried out by the Iraqi government at Iran’s direction, that the US has finally exhausted “everything else” in the Middle East.

As we mark one year since Trump’s stunning electoral victory, the time has come to try something new. The time has come for the Americans to do the right thing in the Middle East.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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