After three successive American Presidents had used a six-month waiver to defer moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem for more than two decades, President Donald J. Trump decided not to wait any longer. On December 7, 2017, he declared that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; the official embassy transfer took place on May 14th, the day of Israel’s 70th anniversary.
From the moment of Trump’s declaration, leaders of the Muslim world expressed anger and announced major trouble. An Islamic summit conference was convened in Istanbul a week later, and ended with statements about a “crime against Palestine”. Western European leaders followed suit. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said that President Trump’s decision was a “serious mistake” and could have huge “consequences”. French President Emmanuel Macron, going further, declared that the decision could provoke a “war”.
Despite these ominous predictions, trouble remained largely absent. The Istanbul statement remained a statement. The “war” anticipated by Macron did not break out.
The Islamic terrorist organization Hamas sent masses of rioters from Gaza to tear down Israel’s border fence and cross over, to force Israeli soldiers to fire, thereby allowing Hamas to have bodies of “martyrs” to show to the cameras. So far, Hamas has sent 62 of its own people to their death. Fifty of them were, by Hamas’s own admission, members of Hamas.
Palestinian terrorist groups fired rockets into southern Israel; Israeli jets retaliated with airstrikes. Hamas sent kites, attached to incendiary devices and explosives, over the border to Israel. So far, 200 of the fire-kites that Hamas sent have destroyed 6,200 acres of Israeli forests and farmland.
Pundits who predicted more violent reactions have been surprised by the relatively quiet reaction of the Palestinian and Muslim communities. The reason might be called the “Trump Doctrine for the Middle East”.
One element of it consisted of crushing the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. President Trump had promised quickly to clear the world of what had become a main backbone of Islamic terrorism. He kept his promise in less than a year, and without a massive deployment of American troops. Trump has shown the strength of the United States and restored its credibility in a region where strength and force determine credibility.
Another element of it was put in place during President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia in May 2017. President Trump renewed ties which had seriously deteriorated during the previous 8 years. Trump more broadly laid the foundation for a new alliance of the United States with the Sunni Arab world, but he put two conditions on it: a cessation of all Sunni Arab support for Islamic terrorism and an openness to the prospect of a regional peace that included Israel.
Both conditions are being gradually fulfilled. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman chose his son Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as heir to the throne. MBS started an internal revolution to impose new directions on the kingdom. The Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, created on December 15, 2015, was endorsed by the United States; it held its inaugural meeting on November 26, 2017. In addition, links between Israeli and Saudi security services were strengthened and coordination between the Israeli and Egyptian militaries intensified.
An alliance between Israel and the main countries of the Sunni Arab world to contain Iran also slowly and unofficially began taking shape. MBS, calling called Hamas a terrorist organization, saying that it must “be destroyed”. He told representatives of Jewish organizations in New York that Palestinian leaders need to “take the [American] proposals or shut up.”
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was summoned to Riyadh twice — in November and December 2017; and it appears he was “asked” to keep quiet. Never has the distance between Palestinian organizations, and Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Arab world, seemed so far. The only Sunni Arab country to have maintained ties with Hamas is Qatar, but the current Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim ben Hamad Al Thani, has been under pressure to change his stance.
Immediately after President Trump left Riyadh, a third element emerged. The US presidential plane went directly from Riyadh to in Israel: for the first time, a direct flight between Saudi Arabia and Israel took place. President Trump went to Jerusalem, where he became the first sitting US President to visit the Western Wall, the only historical remains of a retaining wall from the ancient Temple of King Solomon. During his campaign, Trump had referred to Jerusalem as “the eternal capital of the Jewish people”, implicitly acknowledging that the Jews have had their roots there for 3,000 years.
After his visit to the Wall, President Trump went to Bethlehem and told Mahmoud Abbas what no American President had ever said: that Abbas is a liar and that he is personally responsible for the incitement to violence and terror. In the days that followed, the US Congress demanded that the Palestinian Authority renounce incentivizing terrorism by paying cash to imprisoned Palestinian terrorists and families of terrorists killed while carrying out attacks. President Trump’s Middle East negotiators, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt made it clear to Palestinian leaders that US aid to the Palestinian Authority could end if the US demand was not met. Nikki Haley told the United Nations that the US could stop funding UNWRA if Palestinian leaders refused to negotiate and accept what the US is asking for. Since it was founded in 1994, the Palestinian Authority has never been subjected to such intense American pressure.
The fourth element was President Trump’s decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump immediately announced he would restore “the harshest, strongest, most stringent sanctions” to suffocate the mullahs’ regime. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has since presented to Iran a list of 12 “basic requirements” for a new agreement.
President Trump’s decision came in a context where the Iran regime has just suffered a series of heavy blows: the Israeli Mossad’s seizure in Tehran of highly confidential documents showing that Iran has not ceased to lie about its nuclear program; the revelation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Mossad operation, and the Israeli army’s decisive response to an Iranian rocket barrage launched from Syrian territory. By it, Israel showed its determination not to allow Russia to support Iran when Iran uses its bases to attack Israel.
Netanyahu was invited by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Moscow on May 9 to commemorate the Soviet victory over Germany in 1945; during that visit, Putin seems to have promised Netanyahu neutrality if Israel were attacked by Iranian forces in Syria. Putin, eager to preserve his Russian bases in Syria, clearly views Israel as a force for stability in the Middle East and Iran as a force for instability — too big a risk for Russian support.
In recent months, the Iranian regime has become, along with Erdogan’s Turkey, one of the main financial supporters of the “Palestinian cause” and Hamas’s main backer. It seems that Iran asked Hamas to organize the marches and riots along the Gaza-Israel border. When the violence from Gaza became more intense, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was summoned to Cairo by Egypt’s intelligence chief, who told him that if violence does not stop, the Israel military would carry out drastic actions, and Egypt would be silent. It could become difficult for Iran to incite Palestinian organizations to widespread violence in the near future.
It could become extremely difficult for Iran to continue financially to support the “Palestinian cause” in the coming months. It could soon become financially unbearable for Iran to maintain its presence in Syria and provide sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah. Turkish President Erdogan speaks loudly, but he seems to know what lines not to cross.
Protests in Iran have become less intense since January, but the discontent and frustrations of the population persist and could get worse.
The Trump administration undoubtedly realizes that the Iranian regime will not accept the requirements presented by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and that the harsh new sanctions might lead to new major uprisings in Iran, and the fall of the regime. Ambassador John Bolton, now National Security Advisor, mentioned in January that the “strategic interest of the United States” is to see the regime overthrown.
Referring recently to the situation in the Middle East and the need to achieve peace, Pompeo spoke of the “Palestinians”, not of the Palestinian Authority, as in Iran, possibly to emphasize the distinction between the people and their leadership, and that the leadership in both situations, may no longer be part of the solution. Hamas, for the US, is clearly not part of any solution.
No one knows exactly what the peace plan to be presented by the Trump administration will contain, but it seems certain that it will not include the “right of return” of so-called “Palestinian refugees” and will not propose East Jerusalem as the “capital of a Palestinian state”. The plan will no doubt be rejected by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas; it already has been, sight unseen.
Netanyahu rightly said that Palestinian leaders, whoever they may be, do not want peace with Israel, but “peace without Israel”. What instead could take place would be peace without the Palestinian leaders. What could also take place would be peace without the Iran’s mullahs.
It should be noted that on December 7, 2017, when Donald Trump announced the transfer of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, the leaders of the Muslim world who protested were mostly Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman did not send representatives to the Islamic summit conference in Istanbul. When the US embassy in Jerusalem opened its doors on May 14, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf emirates were quiet.
On that day, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron repeated what they had said on December 7, 2017: that the embassies of Germany and France in Israel would remain in Tel Aviv. Macron condemned the “heinous acts” committed by the Israeli military on the Gaza border but not aggression of Hamas in urging its people, and even paying them, to storm Gaza’s border with Israel.
If current trends continue, Macron and Merkel could be among the last supporters of the “Palestinian cause.” They sound as if they will do just about anything to save the corrupt Palestinian Authority.
They are also doing everything to save the moribund Iran “nuclear deal,” and are deferential to the mullahs’ regime. During a European summit held in Sofia, Bulgaria, on May 16, the Trump administration was harshly criticized by the European heads of state who argued that Europe will “find a way around” US sanctions and “resist” President Trump. European companies are already leavingIran in droves, evidently convinced that they will be better off cutting their losses and keeping good relations with the United States.
On June 3-5, Benjamin Netanyahu went to Europe to try to persuade Merkel, Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May to give up backing the Iran nuclear deal. He failed, predictably, but at least had the opportunity to explain the Iranian danger to Europeans and the need to act.
As Iran’s nuclear ties to North Korea have intensified in the last two years — Iran seems to have relied on North Korea to advance its own nuclear projects — the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula that might have begun with the Donald Trump-Kim Jong-Un meeting in Singapore on June 12, clearly will not strengthen the Iranian position.
European leaders seem not to want to see that a page is turning in the Middle East. They seem not to want to see that, regardless of their mercenary immorality, of their behavior staying on the page of yesterday, is only preventing them from understanding the future.
By: Guy Milliere
Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.