The Biden administration is pulling eight Patriot missile defence batteries from countries in the Middle East, including Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
US officials told the Journal that in addition to the Patriot batteries, the Pentagon is removing another anti-missile system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, from Saudi Arabia, and jet fighter squadrons that were assigned to the region are being reduced.
The reported withdrawal is a major realignment of Washington’s military footprint in the Middle East and comes as the country aims to focus its efforts and attention towards Russia and China.
In addition to the removal of the equipment is the redeployment of hundreds of American troops operating and supporting the missile defence systems.
At the same time, the administration is continuing with its push to finalize a return to the Iranian nuclear deal. The US has indicated a willingness to remove sanctions placed on Iran in return for a return to the pre-Trump status quo, after which it wants “follow-on” talks about issues not covered in the original deal, like ballistic missile development and support for terrorism.
As always, I am astonished by the American propensity to give up its leverage up front. The previous agreement was worse than worthless. In addition to having holes big enough to drive a massive missile transporter through, it completely legitimizes Iran as a nuclear weapons state by 2030 even if they don’t cheat (which they do). Once sanctions are gone, Iran will have no incentive to make actual concessions.
It’s been suggested that the removal of the missile defense systems from countries under threat from Iran is an effort to sweeten the deal for the Iranians. Certainly the suggestion that it will help “focus … towards Russia and China” is not persuasive, since Russia is allied with Iran in the region, and since China also favors a lifting of sanctions and a return to the deal as soon as possible. Apparently, the threatened “change of focus” doesn’t scare them.
I’m not sure what the US would do with those antimissile systems and troops that would deter China anyway. China is happily conquering the world incrementally by cyber, economic, diplomatic, and possibly biological means. I don’t think Biden is planning to go to war over Taiwan or Hong Kong.
The only way to understand this is that the US has decided that its relationship with Iran is more important than protecting the Arab states from Iranian aggression. A relaxation of sanctions will immediately pump up the Iranian proxy that has been battering Saudi Arabia. Needless to say, this will also be bad for Israel, which is contending with Iran-funded proxies as well.
It is very hard to see how switching its traditional support for the Arab states to Iran is in the long-term American interest, because the Iranian regime has made no secret of its desire to humiliate and even destroy the US. I suspect that American planners believe that the apparent religious motivation of the regime is a sham intended to cover the “true” geopolitical reasons for the conflict and to obtain popular support. The Americans seem to believe that Iranian enmity will dissolve if the US allows them to achieve their regional aims. I am not so sure. It would not be the first time that Westerners have failed to understand the power of Islamic ideology as motivation for action.
The Israeli Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi, is on his way to the US to discuss various matters, including Iran. Former PM Netanyahu and PM Bennett agree on their opposition to the deal, but Bennett appears to be willing to talk about the possibility of improving it, while Bibi was not. In any case, I strongly doubt that there is anything that Kochavi can say that will influence the American strategy of appeasing Iran, to which Biden is no less committed than Obama was. Kochavi might be able to extract a promise to provide Israel with additional weapons.
The American strategy was first enunciated in 2006 in the Iraq Study Report. Its main authors were James L. Baker III and Lee Hamilton, and future Obama advisor Ben Rhodes was a contributor. At that time, Iran and Syria were supporting Iraqi insurgents that were taking a heavy toll in American casualties in Iraq. The report advocated making Syria (then still a country) and Iran happy by taking the Golan Heights from Israel, and forcing the establishment of a “unified” Palestinian state in Judea/Samaria and Gaza, among other things. Precisely how weakening the main countervailing power and US ally in the region would reduce aggression from Iran and Syria was not clear (and still isn’t).
Luckily the Bush Administration did not follow the recommendations in the report – at least, not effectively – but it apparently formed the basis for the Obama Administration’s policy toward Iran and Israel. By that time, it was clear that getting Israel to give the Golan Heights to mass murderer Bashar al-Assad wouldn’t fly, but it was still possible to both appease Iran and put the screws on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. Although Obama did force Israel to freeze settlement construction and release hundreds of Arab terrorists, he did not succeed in creating a Palestinian state.
Donald Trump took the opposite approach, strengthening Israel and weakening Iran with economic pressure and covert action. Although his opponents like to say that his strategy “failed,” I believe it simply had to be given more time to work. When Biden took over, the Iranian regime was hanging over a cliff by its fingertips. But rather than pushing it off, he threw it a lifeline, and the coterie of anti-Israel officials he had appointed went to work trying to reactivate the Baker-Hamilton-Rhodes policy of appeasement.
America no longer depends on oil from the Gulf, something that I had long wished for. But rather than enabling a pro-Israel policy as I’d hoped, it seems to have allowed the US to abandon Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, leaving them to the tender mercies of Iran. This in turn has made it possible for Israel to establish normal relations with some of her former Arab enemies. Had the Trump policy been continued, I think we would have seen the development of a strong Israeli-Arab bloc with the power to deter Iranian aggression. Continued “extreme pressure” on Iran might have dried up Iranian support for terrorist proxy militias like Hezbollah and the Houthis. It might even have made it possible for the Iranian opposition to overthrow the very unpopular regime of the ayatollahs. Keeping Trump’s policy toward the Palestinians might have led to the elimination of UNRWA and the rise of a realistic Palestinian Arab leadership that did not believe in the chimerical fantasy of “return.”
But none of that happened. Trump was defeated and today’s Democratic Party, having internalized the views of its left wing – which today border on antisemitism (and sometimes cross over) – threw out the only productive approach to the Middle East that has been tried since Truman’s presidency, and went back to one based on fantasy at best – and Jew-hatred at worst.