War Drums Beating Louder Across Mideast
Fast rising tension between Israel and Iran may well end badly, and in part we have the Biden administration to thank.
On April 11 a presumed Israeli sabotage of Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility damaged the enrichment plant and that was quickly followed by the launch of an Iranian missile that landed near Israel’s secretive Dimona nuclear reactor. These actions are only the latest tit-for-tat attacks that risk escalation of tensions which could well become an open conflict and yes, the U.S. would be drawn into the fight.
Clearly tensions are rising and already involve the U.S. military. On April 27 the USS Firebolt, while operating near the Strait of Hormuz, fired warning shots near three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps patrol boats that approached the American warship, after verbal warnings were ignored. A U.S. Navy official called the Iranian approach “an unnecessarily close range with unknown intent.”
This incident follows a long series of explosive Israeli-Iranian exchanges, all in the shadow of the move by the Biden administration to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka President Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018 because it was "a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made."
We know trouble is ahead thanks to the increased tension. On April 14, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, testified that “We expect that Iran will take risks that could escalate tensions and threaten U.S. and allied interests in the coming year.” The facts are that Iran is frustrated with American sanctions that devastated its economy, dealing with COVID-19, and driven by its own ideological, hegemonic agenda regarding the Middle East as well as hatred for Israel.
Until recently Tehran has been averse to answering Israeli strikes which included the assassination of a top Iranian scientist and sabotage of its nuclear sites like Natanz. However, that tolerance is waning and likely because Tehran believes that saber-rattling can persuade the Biden administration to provide relief from crippling sanctions even though face-to-face nuclear talks remain somewhat elusive.
Obviously, Iran’s recent decision to start enriching uranium to 60 percent is another strong shout for attention and an aspect of renewed geopolitical saber rattling. After all, the regime needs but to enrich to 90 percent, weapons grade enriched uranium, to be at the threshold of a bomb, which makes the Israelis quite nervous.
Back in Washington, renewed Middle East troubles come at a rather inconvenient time. President Biden is preoccupied with the pandemic and would rather not welcome another nasty Mideast conflict. However, the coming months may severely test the new administration’s mettle.
In the mix are Israel’s calculations about both the mullahs in Tehran and the trustworthiness of the Biden administration. After all, indications are that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t believe the Biden administration is fully onboard with Jerusalem regarding Iran’s threats (nuclear program, missile capabilities and terrorism).
Part of Jerusalem’s apprehension with Biden is history. Biden was the vice president when Barack Obama sealed the 2015 nuclear deal that was accompanied by a number of still secret agreements with Tehran. Further, and this feeds Israeli suspicion, former secretary of state John Kerry, who led Obama’s nuclear negotiations, allegedly told Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about more than 200 Israeli secret operations in Syria, according to the New York Times.
Predictably, the Biden administration refuses to confirm the authenticity of the Times’ report. Ned Price, Biden’s State Department spokesman, said “This is purportedly leaked material. Can’t speak to the authenticity, can’t speak to the accuracy of it, can’t speak to any motives that may be behind its dissemination.”
This could be a deal breaker for Israel. Why? Kerry holds a seat on Biden’s National Security Council as the administration’s special envoy on climate change. Further muddying the situation, it is widely known that Kerry continued meeting with the Iranian foreign minister even after leaving his post as secretary of state.
This dabbling in foreign affairs by the former secretary after he left office shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed Kerry’s career. Vietnam-era veterans like me remember when Kerry, in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, traveled to Paris in 1970 to talk with the Vietnamese communists negotiating with then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kerry admitted after the fact that “I have been to Paris. I have talked with both delegations at the peace talks, that is to say the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and Provisional Revolutionary Government.”
Kerry’s Vietnam-era Swift Boat comrades further exposed the man’s treasonous behavior. In the book Unfit for Command, Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry Kerry allegedly faked his Purple Hearts and Silver Star, which he received for “shooting an unarmed Vietnamese villager in the back.” Further, the metals “enabled him to leave Vietnam service after four months. Ironically, it was Kerry himself who admitted he was an unindicted war criminal.”
Given the administration’s reopening of nuclear negotiations with Iran and a suspected leaker of Israeli secrets on Biden’s national security team, is it any wonder Israelis are suspicious? But that’s not all. Biden is also becoming quite cozy with the Palestinians, a harbinger of trouble for Jerusalem. After all, Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad are sworn enemies of Israel and recipients of funding and arms from Iran.
Not surprisingly perhaps, the Biden administration allocated nearly $100 million to the Palestinians, which State Department spokesman Price explained “We continue to believe that American support for the Palestinian people, including financial support, it is consistent with our values. It is consistent with our interests.”
So, Jerusalem is understandably skeptical about the Biden administration’s reliability on Iranian-related issues. That distrust might encourage Israel to act alone to deliver a devastating blow to the Iranian mullah’s regime and especially its nuclear program.
Jerusalem is confident in the outcome of such an attack because of unlikely partners, Arab nations that share a coastline on the west side of the Persian Gulf. Specifically, news reports indicate that Israel has secured flight routes over Saudi Arabia and other countries which dramatically enhances the Israeli Air Defense Force’s strike operations against their Persian rival.
Meanwhile, this week senior Israeli security leaders are in Washington. They are making office calls to assess Biden’s reliability. It is likely the Israelis will return home with doubts which will fuel Jerusalem’s anxiety and grow its motivation to minimize future risk by taking decisive action against Tehran.
When, not if Israel acts, the Biden administration will be forced to come to Jerusalem’s aid and it’s not out of the question that China’s People’s Liberation Army with that nation’s new strategic agreement with Tehran will do more than sit on its hands.
A possible Israeli-Iran conflict is likely to be the first real national security test for Biden. Unfortunately, there are other security issues brewing that could well trump another Mideast war such as an irascible Russian bear attacking Ukraine or the communist Chinese finally seizing Taiwan.
Mr. Maginnis is a retired U.S. Army officer and the author of Alliance of Evil: Russia, China, the United States and a New Cold War. His new book, Give Me Liberty, Not Marxism, comes out this spring and chronicles the Marxist threat and how China seeks to radically transform America.