Trump’s remarkable Middle East legacy

There is no denying the Trump team has done more than any previous administration to bolster Israel and its future.

Showing support for Trump at a pre-election rally in Beit Shemesh (photo credit: YAAKOV LEDERMAN/FLASH90)

Over the next few weeks, US courts will find themselves in the unenviable position of having to adjudicate challenges to the integrity of the presidential election process, a matter fraught with immense political and civic controversy.

Allegations of widespread voter fraud will be put to the test as President Donald J. Trump and former vice president Joseph Biden, as well as the rest of the country, seek some finality to the outcome of the balloting.

Regardless of how it plays out, this would seem to be a fitting time to look back at what the Trump administration has accomplished in the Middle East over the past four years. Simply put, it is nothing short of extraordinary.

Put aside for a moment whatever your feelings might be about Trump personally and place those emotions on hold. For anyone who values the US-Israel relationship, supports the Jewish state and cherishes it, there is no denying that the Trump team has done more than any previous administration ever did to bolster Israel and its future.

The list of achievements is lengthy, ranging from the symbolic to the substantive, and Jews everywhere owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Trump for his historic revamping of the region.

To begin with, the Middle East is a far safer place than it was just four years ago when Barack Obama resided in the White House.

Indeed, Obama bequeathed to Trump a region awash with rising Islamic fundamentalist extremism as the Islamic State controlled a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq equivalent in size to Great Britain.

Just as promised, Trump succeeded in demolishing the would-be caliphate, quashing the evil regime that was responsible for beheading Americans, slaughtering Yazidis and committing unprecedented atrocities.

Then, on October 26, 2019, the president dispatched US special forces into Syria’s Idlib province, where they tracked down the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died in the raid. The group hasn’t been the same since.

Similarly, when Obama turned over the keys to Trump, Iran was enjoying the windfall of the spurious nuclear deal it had reached with Washington. But Trump had the courage to pull out of the agreement and impose extensive and painful sanctions on the ayatollahs, which have left the tyrants of Tehran reeling.

And on January 3 of this year, Trump ordered an air strike on a convoy of vehicles at Baghdad International Airport which killed Qasem Soleimani, the mastermind of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and one of the most dangerous men in the Middle East.

Soleimani’s hands were drenched in blood and he bore responsibility for a wide array of terrorist activities ranging from the targeting of US troops in Iraq with roadside bombs to supplying Hezbollah with weapons and training. G-d only knows what other horrors he might have been planning.

Now neither he nor Baghdadi can ever again cause any mayhem.

But Trump has done far more than merely combating the bad guys. He has also expanded the circle of peace between Jews and Arabs in ways that once would have been inconceivable.

Over the course of just five weeks, Trump presided over the signing of historic peace deals between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on September 15 as well as the normalization of relations between the Jewish state and Sudan, which was announced on October 23.

For that alone he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

By tossing out the old narrative according to which Arab-Israeli peace would only be achieved once the Palestinian conflict had been resolved, Trump helped to rewrite the destiny of millions. And by all indications, there are additional Arab states moving closer to recognizing Israel as well.

In changing the paradigm of peace, Trump immeasurably strengthened the Jewish state, further enhancing its legitimacy and rightful place in the region.

Perhaps his most stirring and symbolic move was the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then move the US Embassy to the Holy City in May 2018, steps that none of his predecessors had the fortitude to do and which paved the way for other countries to follow suit.

Then, on March 25, 2019, Trump signed a presidential proclamation conferring official US recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel. This helped to solidify Israel’s northern border with Syria, putting a huge dent in the Assad regime’s expansionist aims.

With regard to Judea and Samaria, the change in policy was no less dramatic. In November 2019, the US shifted its official stance regarding Jewish communities in Israel’s historical heartland and declared that they do not violate international law. And Trump’s plan for Middle East peace would enable Israel to apply sovereignty to 30% of Judea and Samaria, including nearly all the settlements.

Indeed, just last month, Washington lifted restrictions on providing American funding for scientific and agriculture projects in Judea and Samaria, thereby ending decades of discrimination. And last week, on a visit to Israel, Mike Pompeo became the first US Secretary of State to visit a Jewish community in Judea and Samaria. He also delivered a blow to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, labeling it “antisemitic” and declaring that the State Department would review its aid programs to ensure that no funds end up in the coffers of BDS supporters.

To be sure, not every step adopted by the administration has proven effective or even wise. Just ask America’s long-time Kurdish allies in Syria, who were summarily abandoned last year. The Iranians have continued to stockpile and enrich uranium, and an increasingly assertive Turkey has caused mischief throughout the region. And the Trump vision for peace includes the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state, which would create an unstable and hostile entity adjacent to Israel.

Nonetheless, when taken as a whole, the Trump administration has clearly transformed the Middle East, strengthening America’s national security interests while bolstering Israel’s position.

There are of course many other examples of the deep and lasting imprint that Trump has left on the region, from defunding UNRWA, which served to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee issue, to becoming the first sitting US President to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem. And there is still time for him to formally recognize Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, which would be a game-changer.

But regardless of whether his presidential tenure ends in January 2021 or not, Trump has profoundly changed the equation in the Middle East.

Love him or hate him, it is worth judging the man by his record, if only because the job of president is to be commander in chief, not compadre in chief.

And to paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous query from his 1980 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter: are Israel and the region better off than they were four years ago? The answer is clearly and overwhelmingly yes. 

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