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Delusion in the White House. Bloodshed in Israel. Eli Lake

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There is a wide chasm between Joe Biden’s words and his administration’s actions. (Photo by Jim Watson via AFP via Getty Images)

As Hamas gunmen were in the initial stages of a raid that has left more than 700 dead, 2,408 wounded, and at least 100 held hostage in Gaza, the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem weighed in on the unfolding horror.

“We unequivocally condemn the attack of Hamas terrorists and the loss of life that has incurred,” the official X account for the office posted. “We urge all sides to refrain from violence and retaliatory attacks. Terror and violence solve nothing.”

Observers of America’s policy in the Middle East will recognize the telltale talking points: the urging of restraint in the face of terror; the implied cycle of violence. The peace process has been dead for years, but the mindset behind it survives.

Let’s be clear. The timing of these diplomatic platitudes was grotesque. Here was the official bureau of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, which deals with the Palestinian Authority, calling on Israel to refrain from responding to the worst slaughter of innocent Jews since the Holocaust. 

The original post was soon erased. Subsequent statements from President Biden and his senior advisers have dropped the both-sidesism and focused instead on Israel’s right to defend herself.

Nevertheless, this administration has a serious problem. While the official rhetorical response to the attack has been strong, there is a wide chasm between the president’s words and his administration’s actions.

Since taking office, the Biden administration has taken numerous steps to relieve pressure on Hamas and its international patrons as a means of restoring U.S. foreign policy to the way it was under Barack Obama, complete with a resurrected Iran nuclear deal. 

Until last week, the Biden administration considered its approach to the region a success. Speaking at an Atlantic magazine event on September 8, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan boasted, “The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades.” 

After this weekend, the administration’s Middle East strategy is in tatters. And the self-delusion among our foreign policy establishment is at the root of the problem. 

Let’s start with Biden’s policy to restore U.S. funding for Palestinian development after the Trump administration ended it. As the Washington Free Beacon first reported in August, internal documents show the State Department, in 2021, secretly sought a Treasury Department exemption to release more than $360 million to Palestine despite concerns that at least some of it would go to Hamas. (According to a May 2021 State Department press release, that money went to humanitarian organizations providing, among other things, emergency shelter, food, and healthcare, including “mental health and psychosocial support.”)

But the story, based on the State Department’s own documents and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, is damning. A draft application for the exemption says, “We assess there is a high risk Hamas could potentially derive indirect, unintentional benefit from U.S. assistance to Gaza.” (This document was co-authored by then-acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood and then-deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs Naz Durakoğlu.)

This raises an obvious question after the slaughter on Saturday: was the bulldozer that Hamas used to demolish a border fence between Israel and Gaza, which opened a path for terrorists to flood into Jewish towns and kibbutzim, paid for in part with U.S. development aid?

But even more troubling for the Biden administration is the situation in Iran, which has funded and trained Hamas since the 1990s. On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal laid bare the Islamic Republic’s deep involvement in this weekend’s bloodshed, reporting that “Iranian security officials helped plan Hamas’s Saturday surprise attack on Israel and gave the green light for the assault at a meeting in Beirut last Monday, according to senior members of Hamas and Hezbollah, another Iran-backed militant group.” 

Just last month, Biden allowed the release of $6 billion in oil revenues back to an Iranian bank account in Qatar in exchange for the release of five hostages. That money had been frozen because of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. 

No evidence has emerged that any of that money went toward the Hamas operation. Indeed, a senior Treasury official, Brian Nelson, took to X on Saturday to make this point. “All of the money held in restricted accounts in Doha as part of the arrangement to secure the release of 5 Americans in September remains in Doha.”

That said, it’s clear that the ransom paid to Iran will free up funding for its regional proxy war against America and its allies. That proxy war will almost certainly involve helping Hamas perfect its use of long-range rockets and killer drones.

The Biden administration must now reckon with the fact that it has done a deal with Hamas’s most powerful and important patron. Biden’s efforts to restore a nuclear deal with Iran and its lax enforcement of secondary sanctions have freed up capital for the Islamic Republic to invest in its terrorist proxy.

And let’s not forget Biden’s strategy with Qatar, another backer of Hamas. On January 31, 2022, President Biden named Qatar as a “major non-NATO ally.” This designation was a major diplomatic reward for a country that to this day allows much of the senior leadership of Hamas, including its political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, to live there. (That U.S.-Qatari deal did not include conditions to expel these figures.)

On Saturday, Qatar’s foreign ministry issued a statement that said Israel was “solely responsible for the ongoing escalation.” 

The U.S. response? 

Silent, except for a report that the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani “agreed to remain closely coordinated.” 

Considering their many missteps, it’s no surprise the White House is on the defensive. Responding to Republicans who brought up the $6 billion hostage deal, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said on Saturday, “These funds have absolutely nothing to do with the horrific attacks today, and this is not the time to spread disinformation.”

Ah yes, another case of “disinformation” misleading Americans into thinking their government’s policy is misguided. In this case, though, the real deception is the one that has led so many in the U.S. foreign policy establishment to think that with enough patience, engagement, and money, fanatical regimes like those in Tehran and Gaza can be enticed to join the civilized world.   

Eli Lake is a Free Press columnist and host of The Re-Education podcast. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @EliLake. For more on Hamas’s attack, read Noah Pollak on why Saturday was Israel’s 9/11.

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Iran Comes Out of the Shadows Bari Weiss

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Iranians celebrate Iran’s attack against Israel in downtown Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Over the past 24 hours, the war that has raged in the Middle East since October 7 took on a new dimension.

In a historic first, Iran directly attacked Israel from its own territory—launching more than 300 drones and missiles toward Israel.

As Free Press columnist Matti Friedman writes today from Jerusalem: “Like a flash going off in a dark room, the attack has finally given the world something valuable: a glimpse of the real war in the Middle East.”

Tehran’s strike on Israel—who thankfully had defensive help from the U.S., Britain, France, Jordan, and reportedly Saudi Arabia—should make clear, for those still in doubt, that this war is not about Gaza, or even about Israel and a single Iranian proxy in Hamas. It is about Iran.

“The importance of last night’s barrage was that for the first time, the full Iranian alliance gave us a practical demonstration of its scope, orchestration, and intentions,” Matti writes. “If you’d been watching from space, you probably could have seen the lines of this new Middle East etched in orange and red across the map of the region.”

READ MATTI FRIEDMAN HERE.

Some Americans understand that clearly—and aren’t condemning it, but cheering it on. Our Olivia Reingold found herself at a conference of anti-war activists in Chicago on Saturday. Activists were taught how to chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in Farsi. Watch:

And, when news of the attack broke, the crowd cheered and burst into chants of “Hands off Iran.” 

READ OLIVIA’S DISPATCH HERE.

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April 13, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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Michael Oren: How Did the War Begin? With Iran’s Appeasers in Washington Michael Oren

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Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. As Iranian provocations have mounted, the Biden administration has refrained from holding Tehran accountable. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — Historians writing years from now about the Middle East conflagration of 2024 will undoubtedly ask, “When did it all begin?” Some will point to the Bush administration which, demoralized by its inconclusive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, rejected Israel’s entreaties to take out Iran’s then-inchoate nuclear program in 2008.

Others might cite Israel’s willingness to play by the mullahs’ rules, retaliating against their Hezbollah and Hamas proxies rather than against Iran itself, enabling it to emerge from each round of fighting utterly unscathed. 

But the bulk of the blame, fair historians will likely agree, will have to fall on the policies of those in Washington who sought to appease Iran at almost any price and ignore its serial aggressions.

Those policies began in the week after President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. In one of the forty-fourth president’s first acts of foreign diplomacy, Obama sent an offer of reconciliation to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That June, in his historic Cairo speech, Obama became the first president to refer to Tehran’s regime as the Islamic Republic of Iran—legitimizing the oppressive theocracy—and stood aside while that republic’s thugs beat and shot hundreds of Iranian citizens protesting for their freedom.

Over the next four years, the White House ignored a relentless spate of Iranian aggressions—attacks against U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf; backing for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups dedicated to America’s destruction; and barely disguised efforts to undermine pro-Western Middle Eastern governments.

At the same time, Iran supported Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s mass slaughter—often with poison gas—of his own countrymen. Obama had declared Syria’s use of chemical weapons as “a red line” that would have “enormous consequences” on America’s involvement in the war. It didn’t.

In Washington, the administration overlooked an Iranian attempt to assassinate the Saudi and Israeli ambassadors (including me) and ended a federal investigation of a billion-dollar Hezbollah drug and arms trafficking ring in the United States. Most egregiously, Iran constructed secret underground nuclear facilities and developed an intercontinental ballistic missile delivery system that threatened the entire Middle East and much of Europe.

Why would any White House, even one devoted to rebuilding America’s relationship with the Islamic world, seek rapprochement with such a regime? 

At the time, there were multiple reasons. First, there was the desire of the United States, tired of Middle Eastern wars and no longer dependent on Arab oil, to withdraw from the region and focus on the Far East. Next, there was the belief that the U.S. had traditionally relied on its Sunni and Israeli allies only to discover that Sunnis perpetrated 9/11 and Israelis defied American policy in the West Bank. The Iranians, stronger, modern, and open to the West—so many American policymakers concluded—offered a better alternative if only their leadership were assuaged. Lastly, and ultimately most decisively, was the Iranian nuclear program, a burgeoning strategic threat that the White House refused to interdict by military means.

The nuclear agreement reached in 2015 between the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, Germany, and Iran—euphemistically called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—had three major objectives: to block Iran’s path to the bomb, ensure that Iran became what Obama called “a responsible regional power,” and, failing that, to kick the “nuclear can” down the road. The first two goals proved illusory. 

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei adjusts his eyeglasses after casting his ballots during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Rather than block Iran’s path to the bomb, the agreement solidly paved it by allowing Iran to retain most of its nuclear infrastructure and to continue producing ever more advanced centrifuges capable of reducing Iran’s breakout time to mere weeks. The deal put no meaningful restrictions on Iran’s missile delivery systems or its clandestine weapons programs. And even then, the largely cosmetic limitations were set to expire in less than a decade. Well before that time, though, Iran harnessed the deal’s financial and strategic rewards to expand its sphere of influence across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. So much for the responsible regional power.

In 2018, President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, reinstated punishing sanctions on Iran, and retaliated for Iranian attacks against Americans, indicating a different approach to the issue, but that policy proved short-lived. A centerpiece of Joe Biden’s 2019 presidential campaign was his pledge to restore America’s adherence to the JCPOA. No sooner had the Democrats regained the White House than the Iranians began to violate the agreement on a massive scale, gradually achieving military nuclear threshold capacity.

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Obama’s singular foreign policy achievement.

As the Iranian centrifuges spun, the Biden administration entered into intense negotiations to renew the JCPOA. The talks were headed by Robert Malley, who was evicted from the Obama campaign in 2008 for meeting with Hamas. Under Biden, Malley became America’s special envoy to Iran, but he was recently ousted for mishandling sensitive information. Though the initiative to reinstate the deal eventually failed, the U.S. still provided Iran with at least $10 billion in funds that had been frozen, and reportedly much more than that in quiet sanction relief. 

Meanwhile, the Iranian provocations mounted. An ally of Russia, Iran provided thousands of offensive drones and long-range missiles used to kill America’s allies in Ukraine. Since the start of the war against Hamas, Iranian proxies have launched more than 170 attacks against U.S. military bases in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan, and all but blocked international shipping through the strategically crucial Bab al-Mandeb Strait. 

Still, the U.S. refrained from retaliating against Iran directly, or even holding it publicly responsible. When, in January, three American soldiers were killed by a drone strike by an Iranian-backed militia, the U.S. struck back at the militia and not at the country—or even the factory—that produced the bomb. 

Then, on Sunday, a historic first: Tehran directly attacked Israel from its territory with hundreds of drones and missiles.

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran to repeatedly assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one. 

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. Press reports about President Biden’s refusal to support an Israeli counterattack against Iran indicate, sadly, that nothing substantial in the U.S. position has changed. He has reportedly urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to see the coordinated response to the attack as a “win.”

The Iranians, though, will not see things that way. Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity. If Israel follows Biden’s advice it will send one message to the ayatollahs: “You can launch another 350 missiles and drones at Israel or try to kill Israelis by other means. Either way, the United States won’t stop you.” 

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

The story of America can end only one of two ways: either it stands up boldly against Iran and joins Israel in deterring it, or Iran emerges from this conflict once again unpunished, undiminished, and ready to inflict yet more devastating damage.

Michael Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Knesset member, and deputy minister for diplomacy in the Israeli prime minister’s office, is the author of the Substack publication Clarity.

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