Source: William R. Hawkins
The liberal media approached the latest outbreak of violence in the Middle East as a renewal of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, if not a return to the Arab-Israeli Wars of half a century ago. Former president George W. Bush, however, saw the situation for what it was. In an exclusive interview with Fox News on May 19, he correctly stated that what “you’re seeing playing out is Iranian influence targeted toward Israel.” The 4,000 rockets fired by the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists from Gaza were supplied by Iran along with a wide arsenal of other weapons (including attack drones), training, and money. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are just two of many insurgent groups the Tehran regime uses to project its power in the region. Hezb’allah, Iran’s largest paramilitary force, also took part in the current round of violence by firing rockets from Lebanon and Syria. Iran’s Quds Force controls these groups as it does a network of Shiite militias in Iraq and Yemen. Tehran’s strategy is to surround its enemies with insurgents who can harass and weaken them.
“I think the best approach with regard to Iran is to understand that their influence is dangerous for world peace, that they are very much involved with extremist movements in Lebanon and Syria and Yemen, and they are aiming to spread their influence,” said President Bush. This view is shared on the Democratic side of the aisle, but to advance a very different policy agenda. The day after President Bush’s appearance, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the “independent” who twice ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, introduced a joint resolution blocking $735 million in “defense articles, defense services, and technical data” being sent to Israel, including precision-guided bombs. While he paid lip service to Israel’s right to self-defense, he was not willing to provide Jerusalem with the means to do so. This is because he blames ‘the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior” for the conflict.
Sanders made no mention of Iran, but his desire to halt U.S. military aid to Israel in the face of Iranian-supported aggression followed exactly his campaign to cut off U.S. military aid to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iranian-supported aggression in Yemen. In 2014, after years of violence and insurgency, Shiite Houthi rebels seized the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a, deposing the legitimate, internationally recognized government. Shiites make up about one-third of Yemen’s otherwise Sunni population. Yemen borders Saudi Arabia and for it to become an Iranian satrap would be an unacceptable threat to the kingdom’s security. Indeed, on March 7, Houthi Brigadier General Yahya Sareea claimed the group had fired 14 drones and eight missiles at Ras Tanura, one of the world’s largest oil ports These weapons were supplied by Iran and attacks against Saudi targets have been common. The Houthis have also launched attacks against shipping in the Red Sea using Iranian and Iranian-supplied Chinee anti-ship missiles and drone suicide boats. A Yemen satrap would be a strategic complement to Iran’s control of the Strait of Hormuz, bracketing the Arabian Peninsula.
Just as Iranian tactics in both Yemen and Israel are similar, so has been the response. In retaliation, the Saudi-led nine-Arab-nation coalition renewed its air campaign in Yemen with strikes at key Houthi targets. The coalition had pulled back on their airstrikes due to pressure from the U.S., but restraint by Riyadh and Washington has only encouraged the rebels. U.S. aid to the Arab campaign against the Iran-Houthi axis started under President Barack Obama and was continued by President Donald Trump. Since 1979, when Shiite theocrats seized control of Iran, the basis for conflict in the region shifted as the Tehran regime posed an existential threat to Jews and Sunni Arabs alike, pushing them to align against a common enemy. The Arab states had already largely abandoned the Palestinians, whose radicalism and corruption no longer made them an attractive cause worth fighting for. Iran filled the void by enlisting Hamas into its campaign of expansion across the region.
Sanders rallied every Democratic senator (and even a few “antiwar” Republicans) in support of his 2018 resolution to disarm the Saudis. When a similar resolution passed both houses of Congress in 2019, President Trump vetoed it. Today, however, Joe Biden has now embraced Sander’s view, having fallen for the argument that the issue is no longer about strategy but has become about saving civilian lives — the same argument raised against the Israel counterbombardment of Gaza. At a February 5 press briefing, State Department spokesperson Ned Price concluded his review of recent administration statements by conceding that “Saudi Arabia faces genuine security threats from Yemen and from others in the region, and so as part of that interagency process, we’ll look for ways to improve support for Saudi Arabia’s stability, to defend its territory against threats.” Yet this was again mere lip-service since Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had already proclaimed the “ending of all American support for offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms sales” and ending “our intelligence sharing arrangement with Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led coalition.”
A key partner of Sanders in his campaign on Yemen is Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) who penned a Foreign Affairs essay in February that went even further than cutting off support for allies. He called on Biden to “seriously consider reducing its military basing in the region. Reconsidering the costs and benefits of basing the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain would be a good start, as the United States’ massive footprint is becoming more trouble than it is worth.” This would be a great reward for Bahrain so soon after it normalized relations with Israel. It would also surrender control of the strategic sea lanes connecting Europe to the Indo-Pacific through the Arabian Sea to Iran.
On May 9, the Fifth Fleet cruiser USS Monterey intercepted an arms shipment from Iran to the Houthi insurgents. It is this kind of operation that Murphy and his “progressive” colleagues want to end, opening the door wide for Iranian expansion.
Sanders failed to block the Israeli arms sale because his party split on the issue while the Republicans held firm to their support for Jerusalem. No vote was held in either chamber of Congress. However, as he backed away, Sanders pledged “that he and other lawmakers were going to push for greater debate to make sure that U.S. arms sales do not support human rights abuses.” Human rights abuses by a brutal, aggressive Tehran regime were not mentioned.
Meanwhile, talks continue with Iran about a renewed nuclear weapons agreement. The first agreement did not dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program and left its missile program untouched, promising a perilous future. But its immediate impact was to give Tehran billions in cash and trade just when needed to support its intervention in the Syrian civil war. One can only hope that the current President listens to a past President. “Any deal that is done has got to not only focus on its nuclear capabilities, but also its influence in the Middle East,” President Bush told Fox, “Any deal, you’ve got to keep in mind the dangers of an aggressive Iran to our allies, and to stability, so it has to be a comprehensive look.”