Three major US allies, Israel, Egypt and Turkey, all signal their dissatisfaction with the administration. Many Israelis are upset that Biden has yet to call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Danny Danon, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and now chairman of the international arm of the Netanyahus Likud party, even took to Twitter to express his dissatisfaction. What gall. Netanyahu, who deleted an image of himself with President Donald Trump from his Twitter profile banner only on January 11, has no reason to complain. He got way too close to the previous president, so it’s no surprise that he is in retreat with this one. The US-Israel alliance will continue, but Biden signals that he won’t be as concerned about Netanyahu as Trump was.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slams the United States for allegedly supporting Kurdish fighters who executed 13 Turkish hostages in northern Iraq. To blame the United States for the actions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been nominated terrorist organization by Washington. Erdogan is trying to deflect inner anger and fix the terms of his relationship with the new president. He will have to learn that Biden will likely be much harder on him than Trump was.
The same goes for Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, whom Trump called my favorite dictator. Biden promised no more blank checks for Sissi. Now Sissi appears to be taunting him by arresting six relatives of an outspoken Egyptian dissident living in northern Virginia. Biden may have to push back harshly by threatening to withhold some US aid. Bidens’ focus on human rights has already paid off with another difficult ally: Saudi Arabia has released several political prisoners since Biden took office.
Enemies pose even more difficult tests than allies. A rocket barrage was fired at a US base in northern Iraq on Monday, injuring a US service member and killing a non-US contractor. A shadowy Shiite militia called the Guardians of Blood Brigades has claimed responsibility, but Iran is likely the real culprit.
Tehran wants US sanctions lifted as a prelude to reinstating Trump’s nuclear deal in 2018. But those named by Biden were. saying that Iran must bring itself into compliance before sanctions are relaxed. Iran turns up the heat by increasing uranium enrichment and threatening expel international inspectors next week. Attacks by proxy groups in Iraq or even Africa could be another way for Tehran to step up the pressure. Biden needs to send a strong signal to the Iranians to cool off if they want a deal and, like Trump, he needs to make it clear that the killing of U.S. personnel will have serious repercussions.
Then there are the Taliban. Although engaged in peace talks, the group shows more interest in conquest than in compromise. He has been blamed for a series of high-level terrorist attacks in Kabul, and he is positioning his forces to launch a major assault across the country in the spring.
Under the terms of the Trump-Taliban deal signed last year, US forces have already been reduced to just 2,500 and must be completely withdrawn by May 1. The Taliban did not respect the agreement they, for example, refused to break. with al-Qaeda. His offensive appears designed to send a message to Biden that the Afghan government is doomed and that the United States had better withdraw if it does not want to suffer more casualties in a losing cause.
If Biden comes out, a congressional blue charter study group predicted the collapse of the Afghan state and the reconstitution of the terrorist threat against the American homeland within eighteen months to three years. The bipartisan panel recommends increasing US forces to 4,500 rather than reducing them to zero. Biden should follow their advice to avoid the haunting images of American personnel evacuated from Kabul from Saigon in 1975.
The whole world is watching how Biden handles these early tests. They will set the tone for his entire presidency. He should avoid getting more deeply involved in the Middle East, but he must also show the world that it is not child’s play. Otherwise, the provocations will only get worse.
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