Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 17 May 2021


Blame Biden for return to pre-Trump Gaza

The appalling suffering in the Gaza Strip, and the equally appalling rocket terror in Israel, are at least partly the fault of Joe Biden’s shockingly misguided ­approach to the Middle East.

Welcome back to the pre-­Donald Trump Middle East, where Iran is empowered and its proxies, of which terror group Hamas that rules Gaza is one of the most deadly, are much more lethal. Welcome back to the dismal, failed paradigm of Barack Obama’s Middle East.

The Biden presidency has two contradictory faces on its two most important issues.

On China, Biden has continued Trump’s policies but put them in a far more coherent alliance framework of consultations with allies and solidarity with friends.

As a result, the administration’s China policy, based on US strength and US intimate co-operation with allies, is successful.

On the Middle East, Biden has rushed to undo everything Trump did. The result is chaos, weakness, indecision, lack of ­clarity and emboldened enemies. Trump did a lot of bad things and a lot of good things. His Middle East policy was immensely successful overall.

He put Iran under tremendous sanctions pressure and political pressure. He reassured those Arab Gulf nations who fear Iran and seek a connection with the US.

He incentivised those nations to take a pragmatic attitude to ­Israel and the result was the historic Abraham peace accords ­between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and, beyond the Gulf, Morocco and Sudan.

Biden reversed all Trump’s policies and all useful incentive structures the Trump administration, or at least Jared Kushner, had shrewdly set up in the Middle East. The Biden administration restored more than $US200m in aid to the Palestinian Authority so Washington could regain influence in Palestinian politics.

How has that gone? So far, the main result is that Hamas has fired more than 3000 rockets at Israeli civilian targets and Israel has necessarily responded. As Scott Morrison and others have observed, Israel has a right and an obligation to defend its citizens.

Hamas has intentionally engineered this tragedy for its own people in the sure knowledge of what would follow. No country in the world would fail to respond to 3000 rocket attacks, and more continuing daily, on its civilian population. Hamas had wider purposes. One was certainly to re-establish itself as the leading force in Palestinian politics by being the most ­violently anti-Israel faction.

But it was also serving Iran’s strategic ambitions. The mullahs in Tehran are emboldened by the Biden administration running after them to reinstate the fatally flawed deal Obama negotiated with them in 2015.

Although Biden has yet to formally lift all sanctions, all the steam has gone out of the former Trump approach, and Iran has much more room to manoeuvre. It supplies the rockets, money and geo-strategic direction to Hamas.

Meanwhile, the Gulf and North African nations that made peace with Israel, or were considering doing so, see a much less reliable ally against Iran in the new Biden administration. Trump would comprehensively underwrite their peace agreements with Israel. Biden is much less enthusiastic about that.

The Hamas attacks and the Israeli response have inevitably inflamed neighbouring Arab populations, putting the Gulf governments under further pressure.

This is indeed the Obama paradigm recreated; constant regional conflict, Israel under siege, Iran empowered, the most extreme elements in the Palestinian leadership reinforced, new waves of conflict. If Trump’s policies had produced this mess, as the bien pensants unanimously predicated they would, he would not have escaped blame. Neither should Biden.

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