There are some mistakes for which the world never seems to stop paying.
When the United States chose to let Syria slide into chaos while simultaneously seeking to end the isolation of Iran with a nuclear deal, President Barack Obama thought he was avoiding trouble and giving Iran a chance to “get right with the world.”
But it turns out those blunders are still paying dividends for Iran, creating new dangers in the Middle East and threatening the hopes of the Trump administration. That was made clear this week when Yehya al-Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, announced in Gaza that the terror group had reconciled with Iran.
Prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Iran was Hamas’ main source of money and weapons and helped the terror group transform Gaza into a fortress bristling with rockets and missiles that rained terror on Israeli towns and cities.
But the alliance between the two broke up during the Syrian war as Iran backed the Assad regime and Hamas backed Sunni rebels.
Experts told us that the split was an inevitable result of the differences between the Sunnis of Hamas and Iranian Shiites. But while that may be a common divide in the Muslim world, it took a US president with the vanity to believe his illusions were more important than the facts on the ground — Obama — to bring them back together.
Though Obama repeatedly called for Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, he did nothing to aid those trying to make it a reality, especially when a little help would have gone a long way. He ultimately stood by as Russia and Iran intervened to save Assad.
By backing down on his “red line” warning on the use of chemical weapons and then punting responsibility for that issue to Russia (which allowed Assad to continue using them), Obama also ensured that Syria would become a land bridge between Tehran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon.
Obama thought intervention would have been an obstacle to his hopes for a rapprochement with Tehran. Nor did he let Iran’s refusal to give up its nuclear program stop his push for a deal that vastly enriched the regime while only delaying its quest for a nuclear weapon.
The result: Iran is stronger and bolder than ever and building weapons factories in Lebanon and Syria. By reconciling with Hamas, it has the capacity to create what might be a three-front war against the Jewish state whenever it chooses to heat up the conflict. With Iran behind it, Hamas, which has already re-armed and re-fortified Gaza since its 2014 war with Israel, is not only better able to re-start hostilities but also now more of a threat to its Fatah rivals in the West Bank.
As we saw last week when his adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner visited the region, President Trump still harbors hopes of brokering the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians that eluded his predecessors.
The administration continues to believe that the shared fears of Iran that caused Arab states like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to make common cause with Israel will enable them to pressure the Palestinians to make peace. But as the Temple Mount crisis proved this summer, it’s the Palestinians who have the ability to push them away from the Israelis
And with Hamas back in its pocket, Iran has the ability to veto peace with the Jewish state they still vow to eliminate.
What can Trump do? The options are limited but he must begin by realizing that sticking to Obama’s decision to let the Russians and Iranians have Syria is a mistake. The same applies to listening to those who have so far persuaded him not to start the process of rolling back the nuclear deal.
Trump will probably never get the Middle East peace deal he wants. But doubling down on Obama’s mistakes will only increase the risks of more Middle Eastern wars that he wishes to avoid.
The Iran-Hamas reunion is a warning that policies that strengthen Russia and its Iranian allies are blunders Israel and the West will keep paying for in blood and treasure.
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