On Tuesday, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps forcibly commandeered the Maersk Tigris as navigated its way through the Straits of Hormuz. Iran controls the strategic waterway through which 40 percent of seaborne oil and a quarter of seaborne gas transits to global markets.
The Maersk Tigris is flagged to the Marshall Islands. The South Pacific archipelago gained its independence from the US in 1986 after signing a treaty conceding its right to self-defense in exchange for US protection. According to the treaty, the US has “full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands.”
Given the US’s formal, binding obligation to the Marshall Islands, the Iranian seizure of the ship was in effect an act of war against America.
In comments to Bloomberg hours after the ship was seized, Junior Aini, chargé d’affairs at the Marshall Islands Embassy in Washington, indicated that his government’s only recourse is to rely on the US to free its ship.
Immediately after the incident began, the US Navy deployed a destroyer to the area. But that didn’t seem to make much of an impression on the Iranians. More significant than the naval movement was the fact that the Obama administration failed to condemn their unlawful action.
If the administration continues to stand by in the face of Iran’s aggression, the strategic implications will radiate far beyond the US’s bilateral ties with the Marshall Islands. If the US allows Iran to get away with unlawfully seizing a Marshall Islands flagged ship it is treaty bound to protect, it will reinforce the growing assessment of its Middle Eastern allies that its security guarantees are worthless.
As the Israel Project’s Omri Ceren put it in an email briefing to journalists, “the US would be using security assurances not to shield allies from Iran but to shield Iran from allies.”
But President Barack Obama apparently won’t allow a bit of Iranian naval piracy to rain on his parade. This week Obama indicated that he feels very good about where his policy on Iran now stands. And he has every reason to be satisfied.
With each day that passes, the chance diminishes that his nuclear deal with the mullahs will be scuppered.
On the one hand, the Iranians are signaling that they are willing to sign a deal with the Great Satan. And this makes sense. For them the deal has no downside.
First there’s the money. Last week the State Department indicated that it won’t rule out paying Iran a $50 billion “signing bonus.”
The $50b. would be an advance on Iranian funds that have been frozen in Western banks under the terms of the sanctions regime that would be lifted in the event a deal is concluded.
Iran can do a lot with $50b.
Iran is spending $3b. a month to finance its war in Syria. With $50b. in their pockets the ayatollahs can fight for another year and a half without selling a barrel of oil.
According to a report earlier this week on Channel 10, during Syrian Defense Minister General Fahd al-Freij’s visit to Tehran this week, he was instructed to enable Hezbollah to open a front against Israel on the Golan Heights. Iran’s “signing bonus” would pay for Iran’s new war against Israel.
As for their nuclear weapons program, even Obama admitted that when his deal expires in 10 years, Iran will have the capacity to build nuclear weapons at will.
Iran can get around the ideological issue of signing with its theological foe by focusing its hatred on the US Congress, something Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did effortlessly at a press conference in New York on Wednesday.
At home as well, Obama no longer faces serious opposition to his Iran policy. The Iranian Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the bill now being debated on the Senate floor, ensures that Congress will have no ability to stand in the way of the deal. In contrast to the provisions of the US Constitution that require a two-third Senate majority to approve an international treaty, the Senate bill requires a two-third majority of senators to block the implementation of Obama’s nuclear deal with the greatest state sponsor of terrorism.
Obama has successfully bullied centrist Democrat senators into abandoning their concern for US national security and supporting his deal.
They in turn have convinced centrist Republicans – and AIPAC – to push forward the legislation and so turn Congress into partner in Obama’s nuclear gambit.
Attempts by Republican senators, including presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, to attach amendments to the bill that would require Congress to either treat the deal as an international treaty, or at the very least require a simple majority to reject it, have been strenuously opposed not only by the Democrats, but by the Republican leadership as well.
Obama’s confidence that his deal will go through has freed him up to mark the next target of his foreign policy in what he recently referred to as the “fourth quarter” of his presidency: Israel.
According to a report in Foreign Policy, the administration is now seeking to delay anti-Israel resolutions at the UN Security Council – including a French draft resolution that would require Israel to surrender all of Judea and Samaria and northern, southern and eastern Jerusalem to the Palestinians – until after the deal with Iran is concluded at the end of June. According to the report, the administration doesn’t want to upset pro-Israel Democrats while it still needs them to approve the deal with Iran.
But Obama has no problem with marking the target.
And so, on Monday, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman did just that.
In her words, “If the new Israeli government is seen to be stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution, that will make our job in the international arena much tougher… it will be harder for us to prevent internationalizing the conflict.”
In an apparent attempt to soften the harsh impression Sherman’s statement made on the Israeli public, on Wednesday US Ambassador Dan Shapiro gave an interview to Army Radio.
Although his American-accented Hebrew is always a crowd pleaser, Shapiro’s statements were simply a more diplomatic restatement of Sherman’s threat.
As he put it, “We are entering a period without negotiations [between Israel and the Palestinians] and this leads us to two important challenges.
One – how do we make progress toward the two-states for two-peoples solution, and two – negotiations have always been critical to preventing the delegitimization of Israel.”
In other words, Shapiro signaled that the Obama administration expects Israel to make significant concessions to the Palestinians in return of nothing, in the absence of negotiations.
And if we fail to make such unreciprocated concessions, we will have no legitimacy and the US will have no choice but to act against Israel at the UN.
That is, by Shapiro’s and Sherman’s telling, Israel’s unwillingness to bow to Palestinian and US demands for concessions to the Palestinians is what has caused and what feeds the international campaign to delegitimize its right to exist.
For anyone who entertains the thought that Shapiro and Sherman are correct to blame Israel for the movement to delegitimize it, this week we received new proof of its falsity.
This week, the leaders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement condemned Israel not for failing to make concessions to the Palestinians. This week they condemned the Jewish state for helping Nepal earthquake victims.
Ever since the Israeli humanitarian aid mission set off for Nepal earlier this week, leading figures in the BDS movement have been working overtime to attribute ill and even demonic intentions to their mission.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted on his Twitter account, “Easier to address a far-away humanitarian disaster than the nearby one of Israel’s making in Gaza. End the blockade!” Max Blumenthal, a Jewish anti-Semite who has risen to prominence in the BDS campaign, tweeted, “For a country responsible for so many man-made catastrophes, natural disasters can’t come often enough.”
Ali Abumiah, the editor of Electronic Intifada, intoned that Israel was racist to evacuate newborn infants born to surrogate mothers in Nepal and leave the surrogates behind. He also tweeted, “Propaganda operation goes into high gear to exploit Nepal earthquake to improve Israel’s blood-soaked image.”
These assaults, which attribute malign, exploitative designs to Israel’s humanitarian relief efforts, make clear that there is no connection between Israel’s actions and hostility toward Israel.
The purpose of the BDS movement is not to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.
Its purpose is to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist and delegitimize support for Israel’s right to exist.
If Israel is evil for sending hundreds of soldiers and relief workers to Nepal to rescue earthquake victims, clearly Israel will be attacked as evil for making concessions to the Palestinians that the Palestinians and the Obama administration will insist are insufficient.
Shapiro’s claim that negotiations between Israel and the PLO, or Israeli unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, protect Israel from its Western detractors is totally unfounded.
There is a thread that runs between Obama’s policy toward Iran and his policy toward Israel.
That common threat is mendacity. Obama’s actual goals in both have little to do with his stated ones.
Obama claims that he wishes to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But as we see from his willingness to allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state while running wild in the Straits of Hormuz, committing mass slaughter in Syria, building an empire that includes Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and threatening its Arab neighbors and Israel, the purpose of the administration’s negotiations with Iran is not to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
The purpose of the negotiations is to build an American-Iranian alliance on Iran’s terms.
So, too, Obama says his goal is to advance the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
But his pressure and hostility toward Israel does nothing to achieve this goal. The goal of a policy of acting with hostility toward Israel is not to promote peace. It is to distance the US from Israel and align America’s Israel policy with Europe’s preternaturally hostile treatment of the Jewish state.
Three days after a ship sailing under their flag was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, citizens of the Marshall Islands discovered that their decision to place their security in America’s hands is no longer the safe bet they thought it was 29 years ago.
Anyone who entertains the belief that Israel will gain diplomatic acceptance or even a respite from American pressure if it makes concessions to the Palestinians is similarly making a high risk gamble.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post