Credit to Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Jonathan Schanzer | Senior Vice President for Research – May 14, 2021
With rockets flying and violence escalating in the Gaza Strip, the Biden administration announced Wednesday that it dispatched Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr to the region, in an effort to broker calm between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas. The likelihood of a successful mission is low. But that’s not Amr’s fault; it’s President Joe Biden’s. His Middle East foreign policy is simply out of sync with this mission.
In past conflicts, senior American officials often found ways to steer both sides to a ceasefire, even when Israel wasn’t quite satisfied with the results on the battlefield. But Jerusalem always acquiesced to Washington in the end, out of deference to the close ties between the two nations.
Given America’s foreign policy these days, it’s not clear how that will fly. Israeli officials are not exactly eager to hear America’s view of Iranian-backed terrorists like Hamas. Tensions are at a zenith, thanks to the Biden administration’s stubborn insistence that now is the time to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the flawed 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
Israeli officials are unhappy not only because they see the deal as a path for Iran to gain nuclear weapons down the road, but for another reason as well: America’s role in whatever is agreed upon is very likely to include billions of dollars in cash incentives to the Islamic Republic, in exchange for temporary nuclear concessions.
The Iranian regime is one of Hamas’ top sponsors. Thus, the Biden administration is on the cusp of indirectly providing funds to Hamas, using Iran as a pass-through.
Of course, the Biden administration will deny that this is its intention. And to be fair, it probably isn’t. But it will be a byproduct of a deeply flawed and myopic policy.
Officials may attempt to explain how US money-laundering controls and intelligence could stop this from happening. But there will be no hermetic solution to prevent Iran from sending cash to Hamas. Nor is there a way to halt the flow of weapons or weapons technology that Iran will invariably build with the funds it is about to receive.
Iran is long known to have provided Hamas with entire rocket systems, rocket parts, training in assembly, cash support and other means to enhance the terrorist organization’s military capabilities over the years. In the context of the current conflict, Iran is widely believed to have provided Palestinian Islamic Jihad with a new rocket, the Badr 3.
Israeli military officials privately note that they have observed other signs of Iranian involvement in the conflict, including possibly the Shihab drone that was thought to hit the strategic Ashkelon pipeline, but they have yet to go on the record to explain.
More important is the broader question of what exactly the Biden administration wants in the Middle East. The president and his lieutenants have repeatedly asserted that they seek to extricate America from the region. In other words, Israel is about to find itself increasingly alone in an increasingly lawless Middle East.
To make matters worse, this administration has pushed all its chips to the center of the table in its attempts to resurrect the JCPOA. This is a deal that will once again empower Iran, while weakening Israel and the Gulf Arab states. The Biden folks may not frame it this way, but this is tantamount to a total realignment of the Middle East.
Washington thus lacks credibility in its efforts to broker an end to the current fighting between Israel and Hamas. And judging by the decision to send Amr to represent the United States, that may not even be its goal.
Diplomatic protocol dictates that Amr, who is a relatively low-ranking official, would not be the right person to speak directly with Israel’s top diplomats, military officials and politicians. Biden and his secretary of state, Tony Blinken, almost certainly understood this when they dispatched Amr to the region.
Admittedly, the Biden administration policy has had occasional bright spots. The president elected to shut down condemnations of Israel at the United Nations, providing top cover as Israel struggled to fend off salvo after salvo of Hamas rockets with its Iron Dome air-defense system.
But just as Iron Dome can’t neutralize every threat, a diplomatic shield at the UN may only help for so long. Israel is fighting a brutal war against Iran and its proxies. And the White House appears to be casting its lot with the wrong side for the long term.
Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @JSchanzer. FDD is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues.