Trump reshapes the Middle East at the expenses of Europe

EU Foreign Affairs ministers met on 22 January 2018 in Brussels. They had a debate on the Middle East Peace Process. This meeting prepared the subsequent informal lunch with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to discuss the Middle East Peace Process, bilateral relations and regional developments. From left to right: Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority. Shoot location: Bruxelles – Belgium. Shoot date: 22/01/2018. Copyright: European Union

Trump’s completely unwarranted aggressiveness towards the rest of the world took a violent thrust this week. His vice President Mike Pence speaking at the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, announced a speed-up of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The move is now to be completed before the end of next year. In this way, the US has become the only major player to recognize the entire Biblical city as the capital of Israel, in an apparent support of the country’s right wing and hardnosed Netanyahu government.

Some weeks ago, the initial Donald Trump commitment to move the embassy was received with dismay by almost all the interested parties in the region and the major powers of the world. In vain, Trump was completely indifferent. The Palestinians consider Eastern Jerusalem as the capital of their own state, along the lines of the ‘two states’ principle for a peaceful solution of the Middle East Gordian Knot.

After the latest change of the US policy tune, Washington has effectively dropped such a prospect. For decades, the US had refrained from recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 but the international community refused to legitimize this action. Despite that, Israel considers the whole area of the city as its ‘eternal and indivisible capital’, claiming the greater Jerusalem area as its own soil.

Not giving a damn

Undoubtedly, the Trump administration is seen as not giving a damn to what the rest of the world thinks, while taking care only of the interests of its closest ally in the Middle East. In a few days and for no obvious good reason the White House completely reversed a decades old US policy line. Up to now, no American president, Democrat or Republican thought to make the entire Jerusalem area a gift to Israel, let alone under a jingoist and warmongering right wing government in Tel Aviv.

Apart from the Palestinians, the entire Christian world, Catholics and Orthodox have strong presence in Jerusalem from time immemorial. Pope Francis said he is praying for the “preservation of Jerusalem’s special identity”. Obviously, the Pontiff expressed his reservations about the prospect of an absolute and eternal Israeli sway over the entire Jerusalem district. The Europeans however have much more earthly reservations about the American dealings in the Middle East.

Europe reacts

On the same day and almost exactly at the same time when Pence was in the Knesset, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief was conferring in Brussels with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She reassured him that the European Union doesn’t recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel, let alone the recognition of the entire city as the capital of this state. She also told the Palestinian leader that Europe supports his plan to make East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. There is more to it, though, that needs to be explained.

The US Middle East policy has in this way completed setting new targets and means. Goal No 1 is to neutralize the role of Iran in the wider area, despite the difficulty of the task. Tehran is well established in Syria and the Lebanon and has strong and exclusive ties with Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and other countries, plus key relations with the Shia Muslim populations of the region. Despite that, the Americans don’t mind any more appearing totally hostile towards Iran, even if this attitude gravely upsets whatever equilibrium there is left in the entire Middle East.

Nor interested in peace

In this way, the US exclusively lined up with its two key allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both those countries are in a quasi existential confrontation with the theocratic regime of Iran. Until now, the Americans had refrained from fully and unequivocally supporting the Israeli-Saudi side and thus kept the dangerous confrontation under control. It seems though that, in the absence of strong American economic interests with Iran, Washington doesn’t mind keeping the conflict under control any more. Actually, Trump encourages the Israelis and the Saudis to actively confront or even challenge Iran and thus increase the geopolitical risks in the wider Middle East and the entire world.

While the Americans have definitively killed any prospect of developing business relations with the rulers of Tehran, the opposite is true for the Europeans. German and French economic interests in Iran are very important and could become more significant under the right conditions. Visibly then, it’s exactly those conditions Washington under Trump is trying to undermine. Only recently the White House said it will soon completely ostracize Iran from the western markets. It will do so in 90 days by pulling out from the P5+1 (US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) nuclear Agreement with Iran, to the dismay of the European Union.

Another autonomous Kurdish region

As for the No 2 American target in the Middle East, it’s to institute a totally new and strong ally in northern of Syria. This is to be accomplished by helping to establish a Kurdish independent administration there. The Syrian Kurds are expected to serve the US interests as their Iraqi brothers have been doing for two decades now. Both Kurdish enclaves totally depend on the US for armaments and financial support, making them obedient policy ‘tools’. This American policy target seems critical for Washington, up to the point of it being worthwhile to upset a traditional NATO ally in for it, Turkey. This last country can do very little to effectively block the creation of one more Kurdish quasi state. This time it will border Turkey itself and will practically unite the Turkish Kurd dominated region with the ones in Syria and Iraq.

Unfortunately for Ankara, the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan followed a totally disastrous strategy in Syria and the wider region. So he can do little to contradict the American plans. Five years ago he prioritized the emergence of his country and him personally as the leading forces of the Sunni Muslim world. In doing that, he went as far as to threaten the security of Israel by coming to terms with Iran. Then, he developed a severe antagonism with the US. After the failed coup of July 2016, he indirectly keeps accusing the US as the force behind it. Now, he appears tightly allied with Russia and Iran, but both of them cannot and would not rescue him from the Kurds.

Turkey, Europe’s underbelly

However, if Turkey crumbles politically or economically, Europe is going to pay the dearest price. Again, the US doesn’t seem to mind about the repercussions to others from its unsettling policy priorities. It’s the same in the economic field. Last Tuesday, the US imposed all of a sudden exorbitant import tariffs on washing machines and solar panels, penalizing a large number of countries.

By the same token, the US shows striking indifference about the legality of such action under the World Trade Organization rules. The Trumpists of Washington seem to show exactly the same attitude in the geostrategic level. The US Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, before setting off for the World Economic Forum Conference in Davos expressed contempt for the ‘globalised world that penalizes America’. He didn’t mind if his audience under the ‘magic Alps’ was totally hostile to such ideas.

In total, Trump and Trumpists are increasingly becoming dangerously unpredictable. They don’t mind destroying whatever order there is left in our brave new world. The fact that their ultimate aims are not quite clear is even more menacing. And this is like that because the reign of political populism is rather a means and cannot be such a powerful driving force of the current developments. So the enigma remains; what does Trump truly represent? If it’s just himself this may prove even more catastrophic.

 

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Comments

  1. Beer baron says:

    We can all agree that Israel is a shining star of freedom in a region, sadly, largely devoid of it.

    In truth, Israel is a veritable social justice Shangri-La compared to the rest of the Arab Middle East.

  2. shlomo kikenberg says:

    “what does Trump truly represent? ”

    JEWS

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