In a recent opinion piece for the Nation, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar again posited foreign policy views that couldn’t be more wrong. She argues her, I believe incomprehensible, view that the recent Abraham Accords, peace agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, make conflict with Iran more likely and make peace between Israel and the Palestinians more remote.
After more than seven decades of Arab rejection of Israel and failed international boycotts designed to strangle Israel economically and diplomatically, we are witnessing the beginning of a new chapter in Arab-Israeli relations. The Abraham Accords reflect the realities of a changing Middle East, one in which more countries in the Arab world move away from viewing Israel as an outcast and instead see Israel as a partner – for security, economic growth and culture. Contrary to Congresswoman Omar’s dismissal, the Accords hold great promise to solidify and build upon these positive changes, making peace more likely. Already, the Accords have opened up transportation routes, business and research opportunities and, in the future, they will enable tourism. The Accords certainly do not make war with Iran more likely.
So what does? Iran’s behavior. Let’s be clear: Iran’s unrepentant and increasingly aggressive behavior is what threatens peace, stability and our national security. Iran has a long history of pursuing nuclear weapons that would threaten the United States, Israel and other American allies. Iran’s continued denials and obfuscations about its nuclear designs only highlight its ill intent. Iran has been waging war, largely through proxies, against the United States, Israel and other U.S. allies for decades. As the leading state sponsor of terrorism and agent of instability in the region, the Iranian regime has long provided financial and operational support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas that carry out attacks on Israel. Let’s not forget that the Iranian regime fosters hatred to the United States and Israel, and has both Israeli and American blood on its hands. The regime’s followers chant “Death to America” in the streets and its leaders have repeatedly called for the “Israeli cancer” to be wiped off the map. Iran denies the Holocaust even as it threatens another. An Iran with the capability of building nuclear weapons would threaten America and be a nightmare scenario for Israel, the Gulf States and other U.S. allies.
The JCPOA – the Iran Deal – was supposed to reform Iran’s worst tendencies but the opposite happened. Iran took a windfall from sanctions relief and dramatically grew its military budget, increased sophisticated weapons transfers to Hezbollah, supported Assad’s murderous civil war in Syria, and built forward military positions in Syria that directly threaten Israel. Iran continues to develop and test ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads that could reach Israel and beyond. Iran continues to lie about its nuclear weapons program and has recently increased its enrichment of uranium and its purification of plutonium, again raising serious concerns about its motives.
To effectively address regional and global security, Democrats and Republicans in Washington must unite to find a comprehensive approach to dealing with an unrepentant Iran, while securing ourselves and our allies. The incoming Biden administration has already made clear its interest in renegotiating the Iran Deal. The JCPOA was widely criticized because sunset provisions and loopholes would eventually lead to a nuclear Iran while leaving other issues for future negotiations.
Any new arrangement must use tough diplomacy to negotiate a better agreement that permanently blocks Iran’s ability to have a nuclear weapons capability. Any agreement should also confront Iran’s ballistic missile program, counter Iran’s ongoing support for terrorist groups, and counteract Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region. Sanctions, which Congresswoman Omar opposes unless they are aimed at Israel, are an indispensable tool in this process.
At the same time, the new alliances between Israel and Gulf States like the UAE and Bahrain are critical for counterbalancing Iran’s growing power in the region and even fostering a future Palestinian-Israel rapprochement. In reaching the Accords, the UAE made clear that it supports a two-state solution and opposes Israeli moves to extend its sovereignty unilaterally. As relations between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, and hopefully other states grow closer, these countries will be better positioned to encourage the Palestinians to reach an agreement with Israel while assuring Israel that its place in the Middle East is permanent.
What remains an unfortunate reality, conspicuously absent from Congresswoman Omar’s account, is that the Palestinians continue to refuse to engage in any meaningful process or discussion about a pathway to peace. Hamas, a terrorist benefactor of Iran, remains firmly in control of the Gaza strip, and the Palestinian Authority continues to glorify those who murder Jews. Serious observers have concluded that peace is not currently possible until a new Palestinian leadership emerges.
Peace deals between Israel and its neighbors do frustrate efforts to isolate Israel. And, perhaps, that is the true reason why Congresswoman Omar, who supports policies to demonize and coerce Israel, also opposes the Accords.
There has never been a more urgent time to work together for solutions to global challenges, like a rising nuclear Iran and peace in the Middle East. Only with strong and secure allies will we be able to continue to make progress toward global peace, security, and economic growth. Unfortunately, some of Congresswoman Omar’s policy suggestions would take us in the opposite direction, undermining efforts to counter Iran’s aggression and weakening both the United States and our allies.