Trump's Golan Heights announcement will backfire for Netanyahu — and US

President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE probably thinks he did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a great favor by advocating Israeli annexation of the Golan. Unfortunately, instead of a gift he has handed Netanyahu and Israel a poisoned chalice, while also taking actions that underscore the continuing or endemic defects of his administration’s foreign policy approach.

While the military situation in the Golan has not changed, Trump’s decision fundamentally alters the political context there. Rather than enhancing Israeli security this decision actually diminishes it. Trump’s statements have made it impossible for any future Syrian government, not only Bashear Assad’s regime, to make peace with Israel. No Syrian regime of any stripe will accept Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights leading to Damascus.

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Moreover, Israeli annexation of the Golan furnishes an ideal and enduring pretext for Iran, and its client forces like Hezbollah, to stay in Syria to defend against the “Israeli threat.” Thus, Iranian forces and terrorists associated with them will not only stay in Syria and threaten Israeli forces and civilians in the Golan and Israel proper, their belief in their cause and their recruitment will grow causing major new security challenges and costs to Israel.

 We may say the same thing about the Palestinians. Admittedly the Palestinians have squandered every opportunity they have been given to make peace and obtain a state. But now Trump has given them a new excuse for doing so by undermining his own so-called peace plan. No Palestinian leader or organization will believe in American impartiality or that Israel — which already hosts a large, vocal movement advocating annexation of the West Bank — is a partner for peace. Thus, what they call resistance — and we call by its real name, terrorism — will also continue indefinitely and gain resolve from this decision. So, while this gift may allow Netanyahu to pose as the friend of the Americans, it actually increases Israel’s most urgent threats from within and without. This does nothing to advance any chance of peace, and further undermines any hope for a genuine Arab-Israeli coalition against Iran since the precondition for that alliance is progress in Israel’s relations with the Palestinians.

Thus, the administration has not only harmed Israel’s security, it has also undermined American interests in the Middle East and elsewhere. This does nothing to strengthen the anti-Iranian campaign. Instead, it adds to the rocket fuel that drives Iran and its clients, while furnishing outstanding and lasting pretexts for Iran’s emplacement in Syria and Lebanon.

Likewise, it also furnishes an outstanding pretext for Moscow to strengthen its military bases in Syria. That also challenges U.S. and NATO forces in the Mediterranean. This will make Moscow even more resolute about trying to undermine U.S. policy across the entire Middle East and Africa as it is now doing with visible success. This success, in large measure, is the direct consequence of the administration’s inept and thoughtless policies in the Middle East that merely compound its predecessor’s failures there.

Clearly, the U.S. has no viable strategy for building peace in the Middle East or for confronting the Palestinian or Iranian challengers to peace. America’s adversaries will also use Trump’s decision to show that we are mere hypocrites in denouncing their seizure of territory by force and annexing it. They will use this case to proclaim that we, too, believe that forcible conquest legitimizes the seizure of territory, even though Israel won the Golan in a war that Syria and Egypt started in 1967. Thus, we have strengthened Moscow’s deceitful claims to Crimea and the Donbass, as well as the anti-American forces’ belief in the nefarious nature of U.S. policy. This only invigorates their narrative to convince other populations of our double standards.

This decision’s faults do not end here. Blatantly intervening in Israel’s politics ahead of an election, we have undercut our argument to everyone else that Russia (and implicitly China) must be countered because they interfere in our and our allies’ domestic politics. Here again, we have sacrificed principle for expediency and given our opponents the means to stigmatize our policy as being hypocritical.

Lastly, this cynical maneuver not only is also an attempt to cater to crucial voting blocs that the administration needs to maintain — evangelicals and right-wing Jewish voter among them — it also epitomizes the defects of Trump’s policies in general. Here he has championed personalities over American interests and values — and injured both those interests and those values. Similarly in Korea, just as in the Middle East, by revoking his own government’s sanctions because he likes Kim Jong Un, Trump has sacrificed U.S. and allied interests and values for nothing. Indeed, he failed to call out North Korea on it murder of Otto Warmbier and thus failed in any president’s most basic duty: the defense of the human rights of American citizens.

In both the Middle East and simultaneously in Korea we see a foreign policy that revolves around Trump’s personal impulses. His policy sacrifices American interests in the vain pursuit of gratifying those needs. When the inevitable costs of this policy make themselves felt we should not be surprised.

Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. He is a former professor of Russian National Security Studies and National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is also a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College.