During Wednesday’s State Department press briefing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo teased that Sudan could be the next country to sign a deal to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel. Pompeo also revealed that the U.S. is moving to lift the state sponsorship of terror designation still imposed against Sudan.
The Trump administration recently brokered similar deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Israel, dubbed “The Abraham Accords.” The two gulf countries signed deals with Israel at the White House last month, signaling a “new era of Middle East Peace.” A delegation from Sudan was reportedly in attendance at the signing ceremony.
“I don’t know the precise timing, but we have begun the process to lift the designation of state sponsorship of terror,” Pompeo said. “It’s the right thing to do. There’s been a lot of work done on this over the course of the first three years of the administration. We believe there’s a firm legal basis for doing that and we think that there will be enormous bipartisan consensus that that’s the right thing to do.”
Pompeo visited the Sudanese capital of Khartoum in August, where he flew on the first-ever direct flight from Israel to Sudan. Khartoum recognizing Israel would be historic, mainly because it was the site of the infamous Khartoum resolution, where the Arab states signed an anti-normalization deal and declared that they wouldn’t negotiate, recognize, or make peace with Israel.
“We also are continuing to work to get every nation to recognize Israel, the rightful Jewish homeland and to acknowledge their basic, fundamental right to exist as a country,” Pompeo told reporters Wednesday. “That certainly includes Sudan and we are working diligently with them to make the case for why that’s in the Sudanese government’s best interest to make that sovereign decision. We hope that they’ll do that, we hope that they’ll do that quickly. We hope every country will do that quickly.”
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Bibi’s Victory: What It Means for Iran, the Abraham Accords, and the Biden Admin
Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) is expected to serve as Israeli prime minister for the third time, as Likud and its allies have won 64 seats in the recent election. Bibi is currently Israel’s longest serving prime minister, having served over 15 years in two terms. His re-election marks a resurgent right wing in Israeli politics, and showcases the Likud party as the dominant force in Israel since Menachem Begin’s 1977 election to prime minister.
Prior to the recent election, Bibi faced a harsh defamatory campaign against several of his opponents. An MK of the hard-left Meretz party called Bibi “a malignant disease.” The head of Labor repeated the canard that Bibi cooperated in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. A Yesh Atid MK likened Bibi to Hitler.
But after the dust settled, such talk didn’t walk. The Labor party will fall to 4 seats (from 7 in last election). Labor’s legacy is a quite dated one, as the party has held the prime minister’s seat for only about 6.5 years total since 1977. The Meretz party fell to 0 seats, the first time it had failed to garner any seats since its founding in 1992.
So, what should we expect from a Bibi victory?
Iran. Bibi will most likely ratchet up pressure on Iran, much like he did in his previous tenure as prime minister. Bibi was at the helm when Israel reportedly participated in the 2020 assassinations of Qasem Soleimani (a key IRGC figure) and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, believed to be the head of Iran’s nuclear program. Bibi was also the prime minister when the Mossad captured Iran’s nuclear file from deep inside Iran. One outgoing Likud member of Knesset stated that he believes that Bibi will strike Iran: “I’m basing my assessment on the fact that when there is no choice, someone has to take command, and that someone will be Netanyahu.” However, back in 2010, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the Israeli military to go to the highest level of alert in anticipation of attacking Iran, but the military refused, which some have said amounted to a military coup. So it remains unclear if Bibi will have the ability to wage an all-out strike on Iran.
But Bibi does have some strong tailwinds for confronting Iran, as Iran is now particularly vulnerable on the international stage: the nuclear deal talks with Iran appears to have all but disintegrated; Iran faces significant unrest challenging the legitimacy of the regime; Iran has planned to strike Saudi Arabia; Iran has threatened Saudi Arabiaover its funding of anti-regime coverage of the protests in Iran; and Iran has admitted to providing Russia with drones (while Iran says that these were only provided before the war with Ukraine, Ukraine says that Iran is lying). Bibi can use these developments to his advantage to gain support for continued Israeli sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program and military footprint throughout the Middle East.
Abraham Accords. Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel remains the grand prize, and Bibi has pledged to achieve a deal between the two countries. Bibi could potentially use Iran’s increased threats to Saudi Arabia as leverage to bring it into the Abraham Accords, or at least into the Joint Middle East Air Defense (MEAD). MEAD is an envisioned strategic partnership between Israel, the U.A.E., Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar that Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz had thought would be brokered during President Biden’s trip to the Middle East, but that never materialized. But the Biden administration could remain the spoiler on any of this, given its history of anti-Saudi rhetoric and its fair-weathered support of Saudi Arabia against Iran and its proxies the Houthis.
The existing pieces of the Abraham Accords are set to remain on track under Bibi. Granted, the UAE had expressed concern that Bibi partnering with the far right in his coalition could endanger the Abraham Accords. But this is likely bluster, given the extensive Israeli-UAE economic ties that have already formed since the Trump administration, mutual grievances about Iran, and past unrealized statements from the UAE and others that they would wait to make peace with Israel until there was Israeli-Palestinian peace. Additionally, Bahrain called Bibi’s victory in the election “normal and always expected” and pledged to continue its partnership with Israel, which is reassuring.
Collision course with the United States? Bibi could be on a collision course with the United States, given various policies that the Biden administration continues to pursue despite them being in direct opposition to Israel’s core national interests. These include:
The “two-state solution.” Following the election, Secretary of State Antony Blinken re-affirmed US support for a two state solution, which is not in Bibi’s or Israel’s interest. However, there may be some room for Bibi and Biden to work together, given the Biden administration being “deeply disappointed” with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ public remarks disparaging the US’ role in, and favoring Russia over the US in Middle East diplomacy.
Jerusalem. A probable point of contention between Israel and the United States will be Jerusalem. It is unlikely that the Biden administration will support Israel’s sovereign rights in Jerusalem, given the Biden administration’s past meetings with the Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem, and its support for a Jerusalem consulate for the Palestinians. Also key will be to what extent the Biden administration turns a blind eye to Israeli Arab and Palestinian incitement of violence against Jews in Jerusalem. For example, Mansour Abbas, MK and head of the Islamist Ra’am party, stated in a veiled threat to Bibi that allowing Jews to pray on the Temple Mount “will lead to war,” echoing Hamas talking points.
Bibi has stated that he will maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount. However, Religious Zionist MK Itamar Ben Gvir, who is expected to join Bibi’s coalition, wants to be public security minister in the new government. If Bibi grants this, Ben Gvir would have enforcement authority over Jewish rights to visit the Temple Mount. Ben Gvir wants to assert such rights, but Palestinians and Arab-Israelis have long claimed that this violates the status quo. It is likely the Biden administration will view an increased presence of Jews praying on the Temple Mount as more of a provocation than as part of an equitable solution.
Other issues. Additional issues that would potentially cause a rift between Israel and the United States include additional payments to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA, and pressure against Israeli building in the so-called “settlements” of Judea and Samaria.
Bibi’s third term as prime minister of Israel will be marked with a ratcheting up of Israel’s clandestine war against Iran, although it is unclear if this will culminate in an overt strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Bibi will also likely strengthen the Abraham Accords, and hopefully, should the Biden administration not get in the way, sign either a defense or full normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia. Lastly, there will likely be revived contention between the United States and Israel on key issues of Israeli national sovereignty and security, including the issues of a two-state solution, Jerusalem, settlements and more.
You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic
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