How Trump’s Jerusalem Move Just Helped Iran Win the Mideast

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Some sections of the crazy quilt that makes up the Trump administration want to push Iran back out of the Arab world and weaken it, in support of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Those actors have just been handed a big setback by Trump’s slurred and crazed announcement that he will move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognize it as the capital.

While Washington pols fondly imagine that all politics is elite politics, it isn’t actually the case. Ask Hosni Mubarak or Zine El Abidin Ben Ali. Political leaders have to get a minimum buy-in from their publics. One trial run for the 2011 Tunisian revolution was massive demonstrations in 2009 during the Israeli assault on little Gaza, where student activists, trade unionists, attorneys and others learned to network and get out enormous crowds. Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s toadying to Washington helped make them so hated that they were overthrown, in part because Washington stands for economic policies that punish workers and the middle classes, but in part because Washington stands for stealing Palestinians’ land and making them homeless and poverty-stricken.

Rulers like King Abdullah II of Jordan, who have a powerful alliance with the United States but whose people are pro-Palestinian (indeed 60% are of Palestinian heritage) are not sleeping well these days.

It isn’t that everyone doesn’t already know that Washington is on board with screwing over the Palestinians and humiliating the Arabs. But Trump just flaunted it in everyone’s face.

But let us consider the Saudi cold war with Iran. Given the open Saudi signals of cooperation with Israel against Tehran and given the Al Saud’s embrace of Trump, Riyadh is implicated in the Jerusalem decision whether they like it or not. In the propaganda wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iran just got a big boost.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani called up Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan and the two agreed that Jerusalem is the permanent capital of Palestine. Turkey is majority Sunni, while Iran is a Shiite republic. Any attempt to block Iran’s influence would have to aim at instigating bad relations between these two, among the most populous and wealthy countries in the Middle East.

Trump managed to bring Turkey and Iran together by what they called his “wrong” and “illegal” action. In fact, Rouhani called for all 56 Muslim-majority countries to make a stand against the US. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Jerusalem will always be Arab and Islamic. The country’s Leader, Ali Khamenei, also weighed in, pledging to organize the Muslim world for a response. So now the Iranians (not Arabs) are the champions of Arab nationalism, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt are supine. So Trump is helping make Iran a leader of the Muslim world. Good job.

Or take Iraq, the government of which is run by the Shiite, pro-Iran Da’wa (Islamic Call) party. The blowhard CIA director Mike Pompeo strutted around saying he’d written a letter to Qassem Solaimani, the head of the special operations “Jerusalem Brigade” force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps,” warning him about his operations in the Middle East. The US has some 6,000 men in Baghdad.

So after Trump’s announcement, which way do you think the Iraqi government is tilting? Toward the Iranian position on Jerusalem. The Iraqi foreign minister wrote a harsh letter to Washington denouncing Trump decision.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr warned Arab leaders that if they abandoned Jerusalem it would be the end of them. His followers also staged demonstrations Wednesday, including in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

Former Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki called the American announcement a “declaration of war” on the Arab peoples and an attack on “the human rights of Palestinians.”

So guess who is responsible for the security of the US troops in Iraq. Yes, that is right. The Iraqi government, its army, and its Shiite militias.

In Lebanon, the Saudis had tried and failed to break up the national unity government in which Shiite, Christian and Sunni officials serve. To the extent that Riyadh openly marked Saad Hariri, the prime minister, as a creature of the Saudis, they did him some harm with the Lebanese people. He has rescinded his forced resignation and hastily issued a stinging rebuke of Washington over Jerusalem. But it rings hollow given his identification with the Saudi-Israeli-American axis.

So if the Lebanese have to take sides on this one, it won’t be the Saudi-Israeli-American side. Therefore the Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah is strengthened internally by this move, the opposite of what the Saudis were going for. Thank you Mssrs. Trump and Pence.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Press TV: “Iran Leader: Palestine will at last be freed”

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32 Responses

  1. One of Ayatollah Khomeini’s most effective criticisms of the late Shah, which probably appealed most to his religious base, was that the Shah was serving the interests of Israel above that of the Palestinians. Although the Shah was extremely powerful and seemed very stable, a direct attack by one of his ministers on Ayatollah Khomeini in one of the newspapers led to nationwide protests that resulted in the Shah’s downfall a year later. This is not to say that no Arab country should have close relations with Israel in fear of public protest, but it means that in return for that support Israel should show some sign of flexibility and some compromise towards the Palestinians, something that has been totally absent in recent years.

    There are a couple of points that need to be stressed regarding Trump’s ignorant and arrogant statement yesterday. The first point is that unless we believe that he is the supreme leader of the entire world, it is not in his gift to “determine” that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, contrary to historical facts, many UN resolutions and a consensus by US administrations of both parties that Jerusalem is a part of a final status agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and should not be preempted by a diktat either by an American or an Israeli leader.

    When during the dying days of his administration, President Clinton decided belatedly to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and summoned Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak and their teams to a Camp David summit the Palestinians gave in on many issues, including the Israeli annexation of illegal settlements, temporary Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley and long-term Israeli-controlled “early warning stations”, the status of the refugees, and the small portion of historical Palestine that the Palestinians would get. However, the talks failed when Barak insisted on Jerusalem being the “undivided and eternal capital of Israel”, while giving the Palestinians the village of Abu-Dis. Arafat rightly said that Jerusalem was not his to offer to Israel. Jerusalem was an international city sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims and he was not in a position to give it up. The same logic still pertains.

    However, one good thing that Trump’s statement has done is that it has unmasked the hypocrisy at the heart of US policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict. All US administrations have consistently taken the side of Israel, have closed their eye on Israel’s nuclear arsenal, have blocked any UN resolution critical of Israel’s illegal activities, and have provided tens of billions of dollars worth of military aid to that regime regardless of the fact that Israel has used those weapons to commit war crimes, etc. Nevertheless, they have continued the charade of the “peace process”, and a process is as long as a piece of string, which has so far lasted for decades while Israel has continued its illegal expansion.

    At least now, US policy is clear for all to see. Hopefully, this will unite the peace-loving and fair-minded Americans and the rest of the world in a serious effort to resolve that critical issue that is at the heart of all other conflicts in the Middle East. It has also revealed the duplicity of many Arab leaders towards the oppressed Palestinian people, especially the latest despot MbS who has acted as Kushner’s poodle.

  2. The best thing to fight Islamaphobia, and be strong to face the onslaught of anti Muslim campaigns, is UNITY. It is time the Muslim world UNITED and faced the endless attacks on their nations, and religion. It is time the Sunni and Shiites put aside their differences, and the made the Muslims stronger, and not a divided people. There are anti Muslim elements that deliberately divide the Muslim people, for devious reasons, and this division is playing into their hands. Muslim nations must stand up for each other, and play a bigger part fighting the anti Islam propaganda out there, and counter the Nina Rosenwald/Pamela Geller/Frank Gaffney, and other hate campaigns.

    They should also realize they cannot rely on Saudi Arabia, to do the right thing for the Muslim world. It has hitched it’s wagon to the American/zionist wagon, that is at the bottom of many volatile situations in the Muslim world, and conspiring to attack the Sunni world, especially Iran. Surely 1.6 billion Muslims can get their act together, and be a stronger force to be reckoned with? If the Jews can show unity, why not the Muslims?

  3. It will be difficult for Saudi Arabia, as the hereditary guardians of the first and second most sacred cities of Islam, to have nothing to say about the ongoing conquest of the third.

    • @super390:Saudis are usurpers. not hereditary guardians of the haramain. IT IS THE HASHEMITES OF JORDAN AND IRAQ WHO ARE DESCENDANTS OF THE PROPHET . The onetime wild tribes of Arabia are now selling the Religion wholesale.

  4. “The Saudis are supine”. Ah, not quite: “The decision goes against the “historical and permanent rights of the Palestinian people”, the (Saudi) royal court said, calling on Trump to reconsider his decision.
    “The kingdom has already warned of the serious consequences of such an unjustified and irresponsible move,” the statement said.
    “The US move represents a significant decline in efforts to push a peace process and is a violation of the historically neutral American position on Jerusalem.”

    In other words, yes you’re right that Trump just handed Iran a rhetorical victory and the Saudis a setback for their regional anti-Iran strategy.

    Israel, on the other hand, naturally loves Trump for it. So regardless of whether or not the alleged “Saudi-Israeli” convergence was going on behind the scenes, Trump has just killed it. And following the Saudi condemnation, Trump issued an unusually pointed directive to the Saudis to end their criminal blockade on Yemen, just a few days after the Iranian-backed Houthis murdered their 3-year ally, former Yemeni tyrant Saleh, which thus leaves the Houthis supreme in the region of former North Yemen where the anti-Saudi Saleh-Houthi alliance was ruling.

    • We will have to wait and see if this Saudi statement was simply a smokescreen or not. The Pakistani government makes similar pious declarations of protest when the US “oversteps” its bounds in conducting its war against the Taliban or shoots Pakistani soldiers by mistake or “regretfully” bombs civilians. It’s just lip service and posturing to the public, it doesn’t mean the presumably offended ruling class intends to DO anything about it.

  5. ” So Trump is helping make Iran a leader of the Muslim world. Good job.” If that also means he is helping to unite the Muslim world, Trump’s job is monumental

  6. I am sure Trump couldn’t have planned this out, but others in his administration could have. A negative blowback on the US and it’s troops would be a desired outcome for many in the administration, those who have been angling for a war against Iran since they took office.

    • Any US war with Iran has to run through Iraq and Turkey. Trump’s actions has assured that there will be no ground war launched against Iran. Quite the contrary US troops in Iraq are now in a dangerous and vulnerable position thanks to Trump.

  7. Our idiot President has no knowledge or understanding of international diplomacy and no interest in learning. He gets all his information from Hannity and Fox and Friends who now set US policy.

  8. I wondered what the possible ramifications would be as a result of Trump’s announcement. It seemed to me ( not an expert on the ME) that a unifying effort would be made against it. Thank you for your explanation.

  9. Agreed as to much said the above article.

    What needs to be added is that the Trump action has emboldened right-wingers in the Israeli government to continue violating the civil rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank and weakened those Israelis who recently expressed the intent to seek a two-state solution – such as MK Stav Shaffir.

    It has also caused a “domino effect” as it has prompted governments in the Czech Republic and the Philippines to proceed toward moving their respective embassies to Jerusalem.

  10. Jim Cataldo

    Strange world we live in. Since 9/11, the US has been doing much to strengthen Iran. Iran didn’t like the Taliban on its eastern border, and we invaded and took them out of power. Iran didn’t like Saddam on their western border, and we invaded, took him out, and helped usher in an Iran friendly government. By meddling in the Syrian civil war, we have strengthened Hezbollah. By siding with Saudi Arabia against Qatar, we have pushed Qatar closer to Iran. And now by recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, we have weakened every pro American government in the region, and again strengthened Iran among most of the followers of Islam.

    • Strange indeed?

      One can make a fine case, based on the lack of evidence, that Trump has not and is not colluding with anyone to diminish US interests and influence.

      His actions, on the other hand, are clear and unmistakable. In fact, if a smart handler or committee were pulling his strings, events would be unfolding pretty much at this pace and along these lines.

      Note how his first year, as though planned, has been devoted to weakening policies and institutions. It has been focused on very precise centers of gravity, as it were. It has exhibited a pacing that appears very conscious.

      Now, he or they, begin to make more substantive moves, modulated to the extent they can get away with whatever at any given moment.

      For more color on what is to be expected, review how Israel times its aggressions, and Naomi Klein’s observation of a Shock Doctrine.

  11. Thanks so much for this article, Professor Cole. And the neocons and just plan cons (conservatives) still don’t get it. I caught John Podhoretz on MSNBC yesterday and he was touting what he said was the remaking of the Middle East because of Trump-‘s action and the Israeli–Saudi alliance. Unfortunately, most media in the US are uninformed or misinformed about ME politics and just parrot pro-Israeli claptrap that they probably get from AIPAC talking points. I have also noticed an increasing dearth of academic experts on the various news shows and it is fortunate that we have outlets such as Informed Comment where we can get truly informed and knowledgeable opinion.

  12. Trump and Salman appear to live in a goldfish bowl. Extraordinary decisions are made without the slightest consideration given the world outside. It’s as if the 1.8 billion Muslims are simply shadows on a cave wall along with most of the European public, and internationsl law and UN resolutions so much paper. It’s a bit scary, the retribution such hubris invites

    • Based on the Republican tax plan being foisted on an unwilling public, their contempt for the American people is just as great. The belief now is that democracy is dead, human rights are dead, and truth is dead worldwide. People do not count because they can be tricked or forced into anything.

      • Not having anything directly to do with ME politics, the rise of Trump has emboldened the forces of darkness immensely, and whatever hesitancy they may have once felt for pressing their full agenda is gone. Previously, there seemed to have been limits to how far, fast, or blatant they could be about things. No longer.

        No longer, at least in domestic US politics, does the GOP appear to feel any apprehensions about just taking what they want. The tax plan you mentioned being a case in point. What is most telling is how transparently self-serving that ‘plan’ happens to be. Previously they wouldn’t have had the stones to have dished-up something like this, despite controlling the congress. Now, it is as though they feel that with total victory is in sight there’s no longer any need to hide their mien and the time has come to just GO FOR IT.

        There is a slim hope that they have overplayed their hand, and the backlash in 2018/20 will be so severe that we might yet rebound to a relatively balanced domestic agenda. Until those elections, however, they are working hard on judicial appointments, legislation, and direct action to consolidate an active and determined program of voter suppression and disenfranchisement.

        With the looming end of net neutrality, and the potential widening of material support of terrorism legislation (or whatever enforcement tool they might pick; the menu is large), the next few years stand to be pivotal.

  13. What are Israel’s end goals?

    => A “pure” Jewish nation from the Jordan River to the Med sea?

    To do that they ONLY have a few options . . .

    (1) Pay to go – “incentivize” all the non-Jews in “Israel” to go someplace else. This would require trillions of dollars which Israel does not have and no country, not even the USA, will be willing to provide. Nor would any country be willing to accept millions of humans even if they had some money.

    (2) Round up the usual suspects (non-Jews) – Forcibly drive the non-Jews out to some place else,. But where? No country will take millions of poor people when they already have lots of poor.

    (3) Cage them up – This just delays the inevitable explosion because humans do not like to be oppressed and will rebel no matter how brutal the oppression is and when they explode Israel may not survive.

    (4) kill them all – outright genocide may work a little, but people that are waiting to die tend to be very willing to die while killing their oppressors. Again Israel would probably not survive.

    If Israelis are willing to mix groups, sharing the land in a cooperative way would work, but the land would not be Jewish, just another country with very large Jewish and Muslim groups.

    => reestablish the temple?

    While Israel can indeed scrape the top of temple mount and build a new temple, the consequences for Israel would be catastrophic. Israel would essentially be committing suicide.

    While the Israelis consider themselves to be “great warriors,” the reality is they are NOT. Most nations on earth now have access to similar weapons and training meaning that if Israeli’s opponent has more human cannon fodder, Israel will lose.

    6 million Israelis against 1.6 billion Muslims is not a fight Israelis can win.

    The bottom line is NONE of the goals that Israelis appear to have for the area are realistic and trying to make them happen will lead to Israel’s destruction.

    • 1— They’ll somehow stick the US for this expense. Look to the example of history.

      2—Israeli officials have for some time pointed-out the existence of a Palestinian homeland, and its called Jordan. As for the expense and disruption to Jordan, see #1.

      3/4—Marginal pertinence. Tactics to support #1 & 2. Remember, this doesn’t need to be accomplished next week, especially when the US has “got your back.”

      An apparently Israeli commenter here a few years ago, in all sincerity (eg, no hasbara polish), said peace would come, “once they (the Pals) understand we’re not going anywhere.”

      The core of the problem is the free pass Israelies think they have by thinking they’re God’s Chosen People, making the rest of us…fill in the blank.

      • Having carefully studied 5000 years of Chinese history, I try to take the long view and when I do, I do not see a good future (actually any future) for Israel.

        While Israel might try to stick the USA with the financial burden for a while, the USA has so many internal problems, that eventually the “America first” idea will cause the USA to cut all support for Israel. In other words, throw Israel overboard with an anchor tied to them. It may not happen in the next few years, but it will indeed happen as the USA economy sinks for all but the most highly skilled.

        Once the moneybag is empty, Israel will be in deep trouble.

        As for Jordan, it does not have a viable economy so the addition of millions of refugees will lead to a another ISIS like country. Even with limited USA support, Jordan can not handle the refugees they already have.

        As for the Israelis not leaving, well that is only partially true. The “best and brightest” will eventually get tired of living in a constant war zone and with a global shortage of highly skilled workers, they can easily leave. Once the “best and brightest” leave, the Israeli economy will start to tank, eliminating resources needed to keep wars going.

        While some Israelis are indeed irrationally passionate about the “new Israel” most just want to live OK lives and when the conditions get too bad, they will do the exact same thing all humans do when conditions are bad in one place and much better in an other – they move.

        The Palestinians have nothing to live for, and will get killed by the Israelis anyway, so they may as well make Israeli lives are miserable as possible while they are waiting to die.

        This is going to get ugly.

  14. Beware Trump bearing gifts. He’ll demand something big from the Israelis in return for recognising Jerusalem as the capital.

  15. My fear is that part of the rationale of this move is to stir the pot among terror groups, provoking a large scale terrorist attack in the US. Then there’s an excuse for making America fascist, and suspending the Constitution in a time of crisis.

    It took the Nazis 8 weeks after Hitler got the chancellorship to make the German state a Nazi state.

  16. Nice opinion piece.

    As to having influence in the middle east, perhaps it might be best if Iran were the leader, because the Saudi’s aren’t the brightest and best or the most progressive. Its not like they’ve done much for their fellow Arabs, Muslims, etc. Their leadership is elitist and not that focused on their own citizens, especially women. Now I’m not saying Iran is a feminist strong hold in the world, but next to Saudi Arabia, they look good.

    Its small wonder there was a revolution in Iran, the Shah was an elitist and the opposition to him, had been a religious leader. Its one of those situations again, where the U.S.A. backed the wrong guy.

    Some of the Trump administration wanting a war with Iran, yes it is possible and even probable, but they’d like a war with anyone. Its about selling araments and a war is good for business. If they can’t have a war with Iran, watch for them to start one in Somolia or some other country else where in Africa. They can’t have a real war with N. Korea, it would end too soon with a nuke and that is so bad for business.

    The thing I’ve always found weird is Saudi Arabia really hasn’t done much for the people who were displaced after the founding of Israel. They do seem to come from the same school as Trump. If you’re not part of my team, I don’t care about you.

  17. Maloken, regarding your comment of making the U.S.A. a fascist state, It been there for awhile already. Just haven’t done the formal paper work. Once the formal paper work is done expect there to be lots of refugees going to Mexico and Canada.

    The Americans get to vote, but the process is rigged. Once you have a look at their state politics, its even worse. There isn’t a whole lot of freedom in the U.S.A. unless you’re rich, white, and connected. Just have a look at the video of the cop killing the man in Arizona and being declared “not guilty”. It was on the CBS news Friday evening.

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