Israel the reckless driver.

Reports this morning are that Israel directly attacked Iran in Syria.

Here is reporting from the WaPo.

Confrontation between Israel and Iranian forces in Syria sharply escalated early Thursday morning as Israel said Iran launched a barrage of 20 missiles toward its positions in the Golan Heights.

Heavy military jet activity, explosions and air-defense fire could be heard throughout the night in the area. An Israeli military spokesman said the rockets were fired by Iran’s Quds Force, a special forces unit affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, marking the first time Iranian forces have ever fired directly on Israeli troops.

This is typical reckless driving by our ally Israel and I suspect a consequence of pulling out the Iran deal. Reckless driving is the unintended consequence of America assuming the defense responsibility of a foreign country. States that receive American defense guarantees will have an incentive to be more aggressive in their foreign policy had they no such assumption that America would step in if they got themselves into serious trouble.

Because these states do not burden all of the costs of their actions, they act more aggressively.

We saw this in Yemen with Saudi Arabia.

We are now seeing it with Iran in Syria.

Bibi’s role

“His worldview is very clear,” said Ari Shavit, an Israeli journalist who has long covered Mr. Netanyahu. “Iran is Nazi Germany. Israel is England. He is Churchill and America is America. His main goal has been to persuade Roosevelt to get into a conflict that will crush Iran. It didn’t work with Obama. But with President Trump he sees a golden opportunity.”

 

Mr. Shavit added that Mr. Netanyahu sees Iran as both dangerous and fragile, like the weakening Soviet Union that Ronald Reagan confronted, and wishes for a similar American approach to it: very assertive American diplomacy and sanctions that exploit Iran’s weakness to eliminate its danger.

The rest can be read at the NYT.

The Iran Puzzle

Excellent editorial by the NYT on what role Iran plays in American Middle Eastern “strategy.”

Trump administration officials worry that the Iranians, aided by the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, will seek control of enough territory in two adjacent countries, Syria and Iraq, so as to establish a land bridge from Tehran all the way to Lebanon. There they could resupply their Hezbollah allies, thus enlarging their regional influence.

I tend not to think that an emergence of a “Persian Crescent” is as big of a deal as other tend to make it be. Either way, without any conceviable strategy towards Iran in operation, the U.S. should cooperate with Tehran on overlapping interests (i.e. stability in Iraq, defeating ISIS, and frankly, keeping Assad in power) while the contrasting interests appear to be on the backplate (nuclear spread, Iranian meddling in Yemen (at least I haven’t heard of any Iranian meddling in the conflict as of lately) and state sponsored terrorism directed at Israel).

 

Paul Pillar on America in the Middle East

National Interest has a wonderful article penned by Paul Pillar titled “How Donald Trump Should Transform America’s Middle East Policy.”

He states the quite obvious that

An immense share of the blood and treasure the United States has lost overseas in the past couple of decades has been in the Middle East, an expenditure that has not brought proportionate benefits.

You can rattle off the failures easily, from the Iraq invasion to the dithering in Syria. Obama’s Pivot to Asia, which was based on an interpretation of America being over-involved in the Middle East, was a good start in addressing our poorly formulated regional policy. Yet, a significant chunk of his foreign policy legacy will be defined by his inability to disentangle America from Middle Eastern politics. This includes Libya, Yemen, Syria, ISIL, Iran, the Arab Awakening, Peace Process, etc..

What is to be done? The US still has interests in the Middle East, but they should be better defined and more limited. Moving forward, his recommendations include

…the initial principle that the new administration should observe in making policy toward the region is the Hippocratic one of first doing no harm. A second principle is to keep costs and risks commensurate with prospective gains to U.S. interests. A third is to recognize that not all problems, even heart-rending ones, are solvable, and that if they are, the United States is not always best suited to solve them. Often the interests and objectives of other players in the region are better engaged, and this sometimes means taking advantage of the balancing of conflicting interests.

Highly recommended that you read the entire thing (quickly as it will soon be gated).

 

Israel gets more aggressive with settlements with Trump as President-elect

With Donald Trump as President-elect, Israel has ramped up its settlement construction with the belief that he would be more sympathetic, or uninterested, in getting involved in the politics of West Bank Israeli housing. The latest behavior of the Israeli government is especially dubious. As reported in the LA Times, “The bill would empower Israel to expropriate the property and offer compensation to Palestinian owners, allowing Israeli settlers to have homes retroactively legalized.”

The Israeli government will, obviously, pay a below market price for these homes. Otherwise there would be no need for the bill.

This is actually a situation where I think the United States should involve itself in the domestic affairs of a foreign state. (1) Many of our Middle East security problems can be partially traced back to the peace process and the perception that the United States is not an neutral party. But more importantly, (2) we provide a ridiculous amount of aid to Israel; the latest pledge of 38 billion over a 10 year period is the largest aid transfer in American history. I disagree with subsidizing Israel security but if we are going to give so much American money to a foreign state we should at least demand that the recipient not pursue policies that jeopardize American security. This is not the same as Jackson-Vanik style negotiating because the United States, I believe, doesn’t get anything in return for subsidizing Israeli defense but overwhelming benefits from free trade.