US is back, Israel Hayom, Prof. Eyal Zisser, March 19, 2017
The Trump administration is not even 100 days old, but the Middle East is already feeling the change. The United States is once again taking an active role in the region, and more importantly, Washington is once again standing by the allies and friends it had abandoned. It is now abundantly clear that America can differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys in the region, and that it plans to act for the former and against the latter.
It is an open secret that the election of President Donald Trump, despite being portrayed as an enemy of Islam who gobbles up Muslims, was greeted with a sigh of relief in the region, and in some cases with overt jubilation. America’s allies were fed up with former President Barack Obama and his administration, which turned its back on them during tough times and did not hesitate to criticize them and even question their legitimacy.
The Obama administration was obviously biased in favor of pro-Islamic elements in the region, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It also courted Iran and tried to appease it, in the hope of dissuading it from pursuing its nuclear ambitions and maybe scaling back its destabilizing activities in the region. This all created an unbridgeable gulf between Washington and its old friends, who came to conclusion that even the minimal understanding Washington had of the region’s complexities was no longer there, and that perhaps the Obama administration had lost touch with reality.
Trump is not committed to the former administration’s value system, which was used to pass judgment and essentially sacrifice his allies and friends. For all of Obama’s high-minded values, he essentially let Syria falter and allowed its fate to be decided by the impulses of President Bashar Assad and his friends in Moscow and Teheran.
Many have assumed that Trump would prefer to wait before taking action in the Middle East, a region with which he is not familiar and which does not require immediate American intervention, especially since Obama left him almost no wiggle room. But, surprisingly, the American efforts in the region under his leadership have been the most intense in recent memory.
Last week, Trump hosted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, whose associates were quick to declare that the meeting was a historic turning point in the countries’ bilateral relations, because the two leaders saw eye-to-eye on the Iranian threat and on the need to counter its efforts to destabilize the region. Similar voices have been heard in Cairo and in Ankara.
Trump is also sending additional forces to Syria to strengthen the American hold on its eastern part. This is designed to help deal a crushing blow to Islamic State and provide a counterweight to the Russian presence, and even more importantly, to the Iranian presence there. Trump has also tried to have the Israelis and the Palestinians resume direct talks without accepting the prerequisites set by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trump’s actions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are part of a more comprehensive effort to advance regional cooperation in the region, an effort Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has been pushing for months. Trump hopes this effort will usher in new arrangements between Israel and its Arab neighbor and the Palestinian Authority.
Trump may not have a deep understanding of the region, but he has the instincts of a businessman who wants to win. He may very well prove that one does not have to be impartial to reach a deal, as President Vladimir Putin has proved in Syria. Trump may be able to make Israel and the Palestinian reach certain understandings even while showing his support for Israel. Most importantly, the deal that Trump promotes will not be bound by the value system of Obama or the Europeans, nor will Trump say amen to every request made by the Palestinians. Trump will only make sure the deal advances both sides’ interests.
Only time will tell whether Trump can effect the change he desires in the region.