Pence Visit to Israel Indicates Extensive US Interest in Mid-East
Although the Palestinians refused to meet him, US Vice-President Pence’s visit to the Middle East and his address to Israel’s Knesset highlighted a wide range of important issues and explanations of the US’s foreign policy not previously made clear. Considerable publicity has been given to his confirmation that the US embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but his Knesset address (text here) says a lot more than that. As with such speeches, it probably includes statements of policy which may not be achievable: but Pense has made an important US foreign/defence policy statement.
In fact, the whole address is worth reading. The following summary points include many of importance, particularly in regard to US policy on Iran and what he describes as radical Islamic terrorism sponsored by that country. In effect, he is indicating that a change of government in Iran is a major US objective and that it is in the interest of Iranians that this happens. As the attached editorial in The Australian points out, the Palestinian leadership’s failed to recognise that Pence’s offers are in the interests of Palestinians (see Palestinian Reaction to Jerusalem as Capital).
- Pence stated succinctly but firmly that “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital” and that the US embassy “will open before the end of next year”. Trump made this decision “in the best interests of peace”.
- The US “remains fully committed to achieve a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians” but it is ”not taking a position on any final status issues” in regard to Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. “The US will support a two state solution”.
- “We strongly urge the Palestinian leadership to return to the (negotiating) table”.
- ” The United States will never compromise the safety and security of Israel”.
- Pence said his discussions with President Al-Sissi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan covered “the remarkable transformation that is taking place across the Middle East” and that “the winds of change can already be witnessed” there.
- Referring to Trump’s address to more than 50 nations at the Arab Islamic American Summit, Pence said “we will continue to bring the full force of our might to drive radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth”.
- “We will not relent until we hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source”
- “The United States has redirected funding from ineffective relief efforts and, for the first time, we are providing direct support to Christian and other religious minorities as they rebuild their communities”…. across the wider Middle East”.
- ”The United States will continue to confront the leading state sponsor of terror –the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
- “The brutal regime in Iran is merely a brutal dictatorship that seeks to dominate its citizens and deny them of their most fundamental rights. History has proven, those who dominate their own people rarely stop there. And increasingly, we see Iran seeking to dominate the wider Arab world”.
- ”That dangerous regime sows chaos across the region. Last year alone… Iran devoted more than $4 billion to malign activities in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere across the region. It has supported terrorist groups that even now sit on Israel’s doorstep. And worst of all, the Iranian regime has pursued a clandestine nuclear program, and at this very hour is developing advanced ballistic missiles”.
- ”Two-and-a-half years ago, the previous administration in America signed a deal with Iran that merely delays the day when that regime can acquire a nuclear weapon. The Iran nuclear deal is a disaster, and the United States of America will no longer certify this ill-conceived agreement. At President Trump’s direction, we’re working to enact effective and lasting restraints on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs”.
- “Earlier this month, the president waived sanctions on Iran to give the Congress and our European allies time to pass stronger measures. But as President Trump made clear, this is the last time”.
- ”The United States will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon”.
- ”Just this month the United States issued tough new sanctions on Iran”.
- ”The miracle of Israel is an inspiration to the world. And the United States of America is proud to stand with Israel and her people, as allies and cherished friends”.
Threat of Turkey/US Clash in Northern Syria
The New York Times reports that on Wednesday Trump warned Turkish President Erdogan “against the growing risk of conflict between the two nations. The Turkish president, for his part, demanded that the United States end its support for Kurdish militias. The two men, both populists and unapologetic nationalists, spoke by telephone as Turkish forces attacked Kurdish militias in Syria…Trump ‘urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces,’ the White House said in a description of the call. ‘He reiterated that both nations must focus all parties on the shared goal of achieving the lasting defeat of ISIS’, or the Islamic State” ( see Turkey in Syria & US Support for TPG).
This exchange between the two Presidents appears to partly reflect the development of a closer relationship between Turkey and Russia (see Turkey Russian Relationship). This has encouraged Turkey to act to protect its borders from the YPG of Kurds, who with US military assistance helped fight against ISIS and who want to establish a separate State. Turkey has over 10 million Kurds but claims the YPG are “terrorists”. As part of Turkey’s cross-border operation in the Afrin region in Northern Syria, which is controlled by the Kurdish fighters, it has threatened to attack the town of Manbij (see map above), where about 2,000 US soldiers are based.
With Russia’s help, Syria’s Assad has almost freed itself from ISIS groups and this has makes it susceptible to attempts by both Turkey and YPG Kurdish groups to establish territories in Northern Syria. The head of NATO has expressed cautious support for Turkey’s military activity – “Turkey is one of the NATO nations that suffer the most from terrorism,” Stoltenberg said in a statement on Thursday. “All nations have the right to defend themselves, but this has to be done in a proportionate and measured way” (see Turkey Threatens Confrontation to US). However, the fact that Trump urged Erdogan to avoid conflict suggests that the US is taking an active interest in developments here and, even with only a small number of troops on the ground, it has the potential to avoid Turkey or Assad establishing control.