Why bother?

President Biden should not come to the Mideast without a useful agenda that includes truly confronting Iran.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, June 10, 2022; and in abridged form in Israel Hayom, June 12, 2022. Print-friendly copy

Why should Biden bother traveling to the Middle East? Does he have a credible vision to share for tackling the real problems of this region?

US President Biden has postponed his planned visit to the Mideast from this month to possibly next month, according to the White House and media reports.

My question is: Why should Biden bother traveling to the Middle East? What agenda does he have that will be useful in the greater scheme of things and welcomed by regional leaders? Does he have a credible vision to share for tackling the real problems of this region?

Of course, President Biden should be welcomed in Israel no matter what, since he is a friend, and the US is Israel’s greatest ally and most important strategic partner. But without a worthwhile schema for a visit, Biden could end-up doing more harm than good. And I find it hard to discern what the Biden administration’s fruitful Mideast agenda might be.

Earlier this week, a top US official, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert, averred that Washington remains committed to Middle East, contrary to the “regrettably pervasive narrative” (her words) that the US is distancing itself from the region in favor of engagement with Asia.

She insisted that countries in the region should stick with the US, rather than China or Russia, because only America can offer both economic advantages and a commitment to democracy and human rights.

Putting human rights and not just security at the center of US foreign policy in the region is actually good for global security, Lempert argued. She vaingloriously added that fighting climate change is an important value in US foreign policy (but of course!), for which Mideast countries should be appreciative.

Well, that is so very nice and sweet, but a concrete Mideast policy that is effective in supporting the Mideast good guys and fighting off the bad guys – it doesn’t make.

What does Biden have to offer in term of confronting Iran, in terms of once-and-for-all halting its nuclear weapons program and in blunting its drive for regional hegemony?

If Biden is coming to convince Israelis, Saudis, and other parties of the wisdom of his effort to renew the JCPOA accord with Iran (which is former President Obama’s ridiculously weak 2015 nuclear accord with Iran), forget it. Don’t bother trying.

If Biden is coming to convince Israelis, Saudis, and other parties of the wisdom of his effort to renew the JCPOA accord with Iran (which is former President Obama’s ridiculously weak 2015 nuclear accord with Iran), forget it. Don’t bother trying.

If Biden is coming to preen about the “diplomatic pressure” he is applying to Iran, like this week’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) censure of Iran for nuclear violations, skip it. Nobody takes this seriously, least of all the Iranians.

(Teheran just summarily turned off some of the inspection agency’s monitoring cameras, announced the installation of more advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges, and launched another killer drone attack on US targets in Iraq – just to thumb its nose at Biden and the IAEA.)

If Biden is coming to broker a sulhah between the Saudis and the Moslem brotherhood-supporting State of Qatar (to which Biden recently extended non-NATO major ally status), back off. Better that Biden should stay in Washington to fight global warming.

If Biden is coming to lecture Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman or Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi about human rights, drop it. Best to do this from far-away and removed-from-reality Washington.

If Biden is coming to further insist that Riyadh back away from its war against the Iranian-backed rebel Houthi forces in Yemen, call off the presidential visit. Does Biden have a better way to prevent Iran’s takeover of the Bab el-Mandeb straits that are the strategic link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea?

If Biden is coming to praise Palestinian Authority (PA) president-for-lifetime Mahmoud Abbas for his “commitment to peace,” stuff it. I don’t know how any global leader can stand aside Abbas and mouth such falsity – as Abbas continues to glorify and pay for terrorism against Israel, reject normalization with Israel, launch criminal suits against Israel in global fora, and support sustained violence in Jerusalem.

If Biden is coming to lavish more US aid on the thoroughly corrupt PA, for whatever humanitarian or political reasons (– you know the arguments: good Palestinians need not suffer, and Abbas is less-worse than his successors would be), best to do this unceremoniously and quietly from distant Washington.

If Biden is coming to appoint a special presidential envoy to coddle the Palestinians, or worse yet, to brazenly re-open a US consulate in Jerusalem tasked with diplomatic ties to the PA – in defiance of Israel and thus undermining Israel’s sovereignty in united Jerusalem, no thanks. “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control,” as Pink Floyd sang.

“We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control,” as Pink Floyd sang.

If Biden is coming to bolster the prestige and fortunes of the Bennett-Lapid government at the expense of the Israeli opposition led by Binyamin Netanyahu, think again. Intervention in Israeli internal politics is a mistake and such interventions usually backfire. (Just ask former presidents Clinton and Obama). Anyway, and alas, the Bennett-Lapid government seems unsalvageable.

If Biden is coming to criticize and slow Israeli home building in Judea and Samaria and greater Jerusalem, pull back. Building in Beitar Illit, Beit El, and E-1 are not obstacles to peace. Better that Biden ride herd on the Palestinian Authority’s dash to gobble-up vast tracts of Area C in the West Bank through illegal building and hundreds of Bedouin encampments – supported by the European Union and by American anti-Israel NGOs.

If Biden is coming to attempt imposition of new arrangements on the Temple Mount that roll-back the minimal security control and national-religious rights that Israel currently maintains (and to shift control towards Jordan or any other Moslem group), scratch it. Israel ought to torpedo such an initiative even before Air Force One revs-up its engines at Andrews Air Force base outside of Washington.

If Biden is coming to tie the hands of the IDF and General Security Services in combating Palestinian terrorism in places like Actaba, al Fawar, Al-Am’ari, Al-Auja, Al-Mazra’a ash-Sharqiya, al-Midya, Al-Ram, Aqabat Jabr, Atil, Azzun, Balata, Bayt Rima, Baytin, Beit Dagan, Beit Fajr, Beit Ummar, Beitunia, Bethlehem, Bidu, Danaba, Deir Abu Masha’al, Dheisha, Hares, Jabal Al-Mawaleh, Jenin, Kafr Qallil, Kafr Thulth, Khirbat Safa, Mughayir, Nablus, Ni’lin, Nuba, Qarawat Bani Hassan, Ras Atiya, Rujeib, Sinjil, Surif, Tamun, Tulkarem, Ya’bad, and parts of eastern Jerusalem – where the IDF has been forced to operate over the past ten days alone! – Biden should backpedal as fast as he can. Nobody here will accept limits on Israel’s right to defend itself wherever it sees necessary.

If Biden is coming to tie the hands of the IDF and the Mossad in their current or future operations against Iranian militia, military, and nuclear targets in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, his trip will be a washout. Again, nobody here will accept limits on Israel’s right to defend itself by itself as it sees necessary.

Unless the Biden administration is willing to make quantifiable investments in advancement of the Abraham Accords process for peace between Israel and the Arab/Islamic world (not just diffident declarations of support), a presidential visit to the Middle East is worse than a waste of time.

Unless the Biden administration is prepared to give tangible substance to its vow to confront Iran’s malign designs in the region, including operational planning for crushing strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities and other hard moves to hem-in Iran, Biden should do himself (and Israel) a favor and really, really stay home.

Cartoon credit:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/51704522802/in/photostream

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker