President Trump’s decision to launch nearly 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Al Shayrat air base, from which the Syrian air force flew to drop chemical weapons on the town of Khan Sheikhoun earlier this week, was swift and purposeful. No doubt, the horrific nature of the attack moved him. But the United States response was clearly about sending messages to President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, as well as the international community: Chemical weapons will not be used with impunity.
To be sure, this American strike, which was targeted and designed to inflict significant damage on one air base in Syria, will also convey to the Iranians, and to the North Koreans, that they had better take the words of this administration seriously.… Seguir leyendo »
The Obama administration wants to reduce the violence and suffering in Syria and, at the same time, quash jihadist groups there. This is why the White House is now pushing a plan for the United States to cooperate with the Russian military in Syria, sharing intelligence and coordinating airstrikes against the Islamic State and the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. In return, Russia would force the government of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to stop using barrel bombs and air attacks in areas in which neither extremist group is present.
Wiping out terrorist groups in Syria is an important goal and, after years of death and destruction, any agreement among the country’s warring parties or their patrons may seem welcome.… Seguir leyendo »
Rarely has there been a time when less attention has been paid to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than today. Given the threat from the Islamic State, the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, proxy conflicts between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Egypt’s struggles with radical Islamists, it is hard to find anyone in Washington or the Arab capitals who is thinking about the Israelis and Palestinians. But the problem is not going away.
For the past five months, there have been more than 100 individual Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis. As the risk of escalation grows, both sides are becoming even more doubtful that there will ever be peace.… Seguir leyendo »
I last saw Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Nov. 1, 1995, three days before his assassination. As President Clinton’s chief negotiator in the Middle East, I was briefing him on my talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad and discussing my upcoming meeting in Gaza with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. But I was not just focused on negotiating tracks. I also wanted to hear how he was handling an increasingly ugly atmosphere in Israel.
It had been five weeks since we had concluded the Interim Agreement, which would bring the Palestinian Authority to all the major cities in the West Bank, produce the Israeli military’s withdrawal from those cities and provide for Palestinian elections.… Seguir leyendo »
Last week, before going to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, declared that he would drop a bombshell in his speech. The much-awaited line, delivered Wednesday, was this: “We cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements,” by which he meant the Oslo Accords, “and Israel must assume fully all its responsibility as an occupying power.”
These sound like strong words, but what do they actually mean? Did Mr. Abbas mean that he intended to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, the entity set up by the Gaza-Jericho agreement of 1994?… Seguir leyendo »
Many members of Congress continue to grapple with the nuclear deal with Iran — and so do we. Like us, the undecideds see its benefits: The deal would block the uranium enrichment, plutonium separation and covert paths to a nuclear bomb for the next 15 years. Compared with today, with an Iran that is three months from break-out capability and with a stockpile of 10 bombs’ worth of low-enriched uranium, there can be little doubt that a deal leaves us far better off , producing a one-year break-out time and permitting the Iranians less than one bomb’s worth of material for the next 15 years .… Seguir leyendo »
The controversy over Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress has had the ironic effect of diverting attention from the very topic the Israeli prime minister wants to discuss: the problems with a potential deal on the Iranian nuclear program. Although everyone debates the propriety of the Israeli prime minister challenging President Obama’s policy in such a setting, the partisan nature of the invitation and the timing of the speech — just two weeks before an Israeli election — the substance of the issue has been pushed aside. Why is there such a divide between the United States’ and Israel’s positions, and can they be bridged?… Seguir leyendo »
The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, insists on using international institutions to pressure Israel, even after he was rebuffed in the United Nations Security Council, where he sought a resolution mandating Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Mr. Abbas has now announced that he will turn to the International Criminal Court — a move that will produce Palestinian charges and Israeli countercharges but not alter the reality on the ground.
A European official I met recently expressed sympathy for the Palestinians’ pursuit of a Security Council resolution. I responded by saying that if he favors Palestinian statehood, it’s time to stop giving the Palestinians a pass.… Seguir leyendo »
After a decade of patient negotiations with Iran over its contested nuclear program, the prospects of the United States and other world powers securing a final deal are not good. The wheels of diplomacy will grind on and an extension of the talks should be granted. But it is time to acknowledge that the policy of engagement has been predicated on a series of assumptions that, although logical, have proven largely incorrect. As Washington assesses its next moves, it would be wise to reconsider the judgments that have underwritten its approach to one of its most elusive adversaries.
Two administrations — those of George W.… Seguir leyendo »
It should come as no surprise that the Obama administration continues to wrestle with its approach to Syria. There are no good options in a war that has claimed 200,000 lives and displaced nearly 10 million people. The president is right to say that there are no magic solutions, yet he also clearly understands that avoidance is not an alternative if we are to achieve his declared objective of degrading and eventually destroying the Islamic State. Leaving the terrorist group with a haven in Syria ensures it both an ability to wreak havoc in Iraq and an operational space from which to plan, recruit and, in time, carry out attacks worldwide.… Seguir leyendo »
As the United States begins its campaign to destroy the Islamic State, many voices can be counted on to call for cooperation with Iran. Among those has been none other than Secretary of State John Kerry, who insisted that Iran’s exclusion from the Paris Conference “doesn’t mean that we are opposed to the idea of communicating to find out if they will come on board, or under what circumstances, or whether there is the possibility of a change.” On the surface, this may seem sensible, as both Washington and Tehran have an interest in defanging a militant Sunni group. But we would wise to bear in mind two points: First, Kerry’s proviso on the possibility of change, and second, that the essential axiom of Middle East politics is that the enemy of my enemy is sometimes still my enemy.… Seguir leyendo »
A new fault line has emerged in Middle Eastern politics, one that will have profound implications for America’s foreign policy in the region. This rift is not defined by those who support or oppose the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or by conflict between Sunnis and Shiites and the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is characterized by a fundamental division between Islamists and non-Islamists.
On one side are the Islamists — both Sunni and Shiite. ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood represent the Sunni end of the spectrum, while the Islamic Republic of Iran and its militias, including Hezbollah (in Lebanon and Syria) and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (in Iraq), constitute the other.… Seguir leyendo »
Rarely have the psychological gaps between Israelis and Palestinians been greater. The kidnapping of three teenagers in the West Bank traumatized Israeli society, which celebrates and cherishes its children. On the Palestinian side, the kidnapping was initially celebrated as a means to get prisoners released from Israeli jails; the fact that the kidnappers made no demands did not seem to register with the members of the Palestinian public who adopted a three-finger gesture, symbolizing the three Israeli teens, as a sign of potential victory. But there was no victory, only the killing of the teens, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, followed by the killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khieder, possibly in reprisal.… Seguir leyendo »
The conflict in Iraq will not be settled any time soon. Although the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and its Sunni allies may not be about to march on Baghdad, they are continuing to expand their control over much of northern and western Iraq. The military and diplomatic steps that President Obama has ordered reflect the U.S. need to prevent ISIS from embedding itself in more of Iraq. Whether they will work, however, is another matter.
Iraq is a mess today. The president is right to expect the Iraqi government to take the lead in its own defense.… Seguir leyendo »
Arms control has often been a bone of contention between the White House and Congress. Presidents and their diplomats prefer to reach agreements in secret and then shield the accord from congressional scrutiny, much less consent. It is all too tempting for the Obama administration to follow this script as it negotiates with Iran. But that would be a mistake. Notwithstanding partisan difficulties, seeking congressional endorsement is essential lest any agreement rest on a shaky foundation and be difficult to implement.
Two of President Obama’s predecessors offer a path worthy of emulation. Harry Truman did much to anchor the institutions of the Cold War in a durable domestic consensus.… Seguir leyendo »
Once again the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace is at an impasse. President Obama speaks of a pause. Martin Indyk, the American envoy for the negotiations, talks of a reassessment. Secretary of State John Kerry’s hopes for a breakthrough now seem distant, if not misplaced.
Do we walk away and let the parties stew in their own juices, as some in the administration are arguing? Do we put forward our proposal for resolving the core issues of the conflict even though they will almost certainly be rejected by both the Palestinian Authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu? Or do we continue trying to coax the parties toward a final-status agreement?… Seguir leyendo »
As I write this in Jerusalem, there is great angst among Israelis about the possible deal now being negotiated on the Iranian nuclear programme in Geneva.
Why the unease? The Israelis fear that an agreement could let the Iranians off the hook without altering their programme. They believe that once there is a limited easing of sanctions, perhaps including Iranian access to some of their assets in foreign banks, the entire sanctions regime will inevitably erode.
Some countries would see the easing as a sign they can go back into business with oil-rich Iran — and the Iranians will know they can simply play for time, and need not make further concessions as the economic and political squeeze on them dissipates.… Seguir leyendo »
This month in Geneva, at the first negotiations over its nuclear program since the election of President Hassan Rouhani, Iran took an unprecedented step: It negotiated. For the first time, Tehran presented an actual vision of the endgame for the talks with six world powers, and how to get there. However, contrary to expectations, it offered no concessions, leaving serious questions about Iranian purposes. With another round of talks scheduled for next week, U.S. negotiators would do well to follow principles that signify the core interests at stake.
The most pressing national security threat facing the United States remains preventing a nuclear-capable Iran.… Seguir leyendo »
The opponents of congressional authorization for military strikes against Syria are focused on one set of concerns: the belief that the costs of action are simply too high and uncertain. Syria for them is a civil war, with few apparent good guys and far too many bad guys. The use of chemical weapons is, in their eyes, terrible, but ultimately it is not our problem — unless, of course, we make it our problem by reacting militarily. If we do, they see a slippery slope in which the initial use of force will inevitably suck us into a conflict that we cannot win.… Seguir leyendo »
The election of Hassan Rowhani as Iran’s new president has created a sense that there are new possibilities of progress on the nuclear issue; we need to respond, but warily. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, allowed Mr. Rowhani to win the election recognizing that he had run against current Iranian policies that have isolated the country and invited economically disastrous sanctions. But it isn’t clear why Mr. Khamenei allowed such an outcome, and here are some theories that have been proposed:
He believes that Mr. Rowhani’s election could provide a safety valve for the great discontent within Iran.
He believes that Mr.… Seguir leyendo »