The American-led Middle East order is collapsing. Rival powers and regional actors now jockey for position in the region, in an attempt to form the next order there. While America’s position as the de facto regional hegemon has imploded, we still retain an immense amount of power—and, through our traditional allies in the Sunni Arab states and Israel—can help shape whatever comes next in that geostrategically vital place. For the United States to help establish a new regional order that remains relatively amenable to American national interests, the United States must protect Israel—and not just with rhetoric.
Israel is a fellow democratic state facing the same enemies that we face: Sunni jihadism and Iranian imperialism. Israel is also home to one of the world’s most capable militaries and houses one of the most dynamic economies. The United States effectively served as midwife at the birth of Israel as an independent country, so in addition to interest, we have sentiment and affection with Israel.
A Mideast without Israel would be a region that is still vitally important for the global economy and one lacking any conduit for real American influence. Loss of influence there would be a serious threat to our ability to preserve our own national independence. And make no mistake: an Israel-free Middle East is precisely what Iran (and even some of the Sunni Arab states) want.
Iran’s Genocidal Ambitions
Whereas Sunni Arab states with histories of exporting terrorism (such as Saudi Arabia) are now moving toward reform, Iran has made no effort to restrain its Islamist fervor. In fact, Iran’s constitution giddily declares that its armed forces “will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law [Sharia] throughout the world.” As Ilan Berman observed, “Iran’s radical vision of Islamic governance . . . was intended from the start to be an export commodity.”
Antisemitism and anti-Americanism, not oil, are the true the lifeblood of Iran. More recently, the regime in Tehran has denied that the Holocaust ever happened—while simultaneously promising to usher in a new Holocaust (only this time with nuclear weapons). After the disastrous U.S. “war of choice” in Iraq, followed by our equally moronic support for regime change in Libya, Egypt, and (until Trump’s arrival) Syria, along with the Obama Administration’s foolish nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel’s position has never been more tenuous.
Left to its own devices, Iran would annihilate Israel and erase America’s influence in the Middle East.
How to Delegitimize Tehran
The recent state visit in Washington, D.C. between French President Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump was more than a few posh evenings between two old allies. It was Macron’s attempt (representing most of Europe) to convince Trump to keep American forces on the ground in Syria and to continue America’s commitment to the very bad Iran nuclear agreement. President Trump is understandably ready to pull American forces from chaotic Syria and wants to end the terrible nuclear deal. Oddly, the Europeans claim that ending the nuclear agreement with Iran would be detrimental to regional security, while American forces remaining in Syria would enhance Mideast security.
They are wrong. Maintaining the nuclear agreement confers legitimacy upon Iran that it does not deserve. More importantly, it allows them legal access to nuclear weapons capabilities.
Meanwhile, Syria has always been an Iranian playground. With most Americans (rightly) refusing to support the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria, there is nothing the United States can do to prevent the Iranians from increasing their influence there—especially now that the Trump Administration inexplicably abandoned the Kurds to the Turks. At the same time, there is no doubt that allowing for an unimpeded corridor linking Iran with the Mediterranean Sea would be geopolitically disastrous.
All that the United States can do now is to shore up Israel’s defense.
To that end, the United States should help build more missile defense systems in Israel. Also, America should pull out of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and install ground-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Israel. Yes, Israel has access to its own nuclear arms, but its arsenal is relatively small. Placing the kind of missiles that were previously banned under the INF Treaty in Israel would enhance Israeli security, send a strong signal to Iran (and Russia), and allow for the United States to plug a strategic gap in its defense.
Send Russia a Message
Meanwhile, the Israelis should reach out to the Russians and threaten essentially to cut off trade relations with Moscow unless they rein in their Iranian proxy. Despite their nominal alliance with Iran, Moscow would prefer to do business with Israel. Russia needs access to Israel’s high-tech sector to stay competitive with the United States and China. With Russia vowing to hand over its vaunted S-300 air defense system to Assad (and, ostensibly, with Iranian forces in Syria), Israel has threatened to destroy advanced Russian weapons in Syria. America should also publicly announce support for Israel’s threats.
The United States will never enjoy being the regional hegemon again in the Middle East. Even so, it need not abandon completely its position there. Instead, the United States must empower fully its regional allies—Israel especially—and continue putting pressure on Russia to restrain its Iranian proxy. Thus, a favorable balance of power can be created between two external powers (the United States and Russia) and their regional proxies. This is the only way one can create stability in the unstable Middle East today.
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