John Ullyot, It is hard to imagine how much has changed in the Middle East less than four months into the Biden presidency. Under President Trump, Iran was in a box, and last year’s historic Abraham Accords cemented a new era of Arab-Israeli cooperation that sprang from Trump’s toughness on the ayatollahs.
Biden now is backsliding on Trump’s anti-Iranian hard line, specifically by playing footsie with Tehran to loosen Trump’s sanctions and re-enter the disastrous Iran-nuclear deal. The mullahs predictably have tested the new Administration by green-lighting its proxy Hamas to attack Israel unlike any time since summer 2014, during the Obama-Biden administration.
Whatever one’s overall view of Trump’s presidency, he indisputably produced more national-security wins than any president in a generation or more. Trump countered Communist China’s aggression, strengthened our Indo-Pacific partnerships, began America’s long-awaited departure from Afghanistan, eliminated the ISIS caliphate, and killed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Trump’s national-security policies were most productive regarding Iran. Four years ago this week, Trump traveled to Riyadh where he delivered a key speech to Muslim heads of state from around the world, signaling a new toughness on Iran. He said, “Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.”
From then onward, Trump did just that. He withdrew America from Obama-Biden’s nuclear deal, imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including against many of its leaders personally, and acted swiftly to counter Iranian aggression and that of its proxies.
Trump further isolated Iran by strengthening America’s relationship with Israel. He became the first president to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, after his three immediate predecessors failed to do so, despite a 1995 law that required that relocation. Trump’s leadership in moving Arab nations against Iran culminated in the signing of the Abraham Accords, where the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recognized Israel in August and September 2020, and were joined a few months later by Sudan and Morocco. These four nations became the first Arab states to make peace with Israel since Jordan did so in October 1994.
With Iran’s leaders smarting from Trump’s four-year “maximum pressure campaign,” all Biden had to do was nothing. Rather than maintain Trump’s policy of peace through strength, Biden did precisely the opposite. He signaled from his Delaware bunker and as President-elect in December his intent to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. Since coming to power, Biden’s team has been in multi-party talks in Vienna to negotiate an end to the anti-Tehran sanctions. Last month, Biden even restored $235 million in aid to the Palestinians that Trump cut in 2018, due to their close ties to Iran. In yet another gift to the ayatollahs, these moves have iced any prospect of Biden expanding Trump’s success and adding countries to the Abraham Accords.
Given Biden’s weakness on Iran, and his desperation to revive the Iran-nuke deal, Tehran decided to step on the gas last week. It gave Hamas the green light to rain rockets on Israel, reputedly to protest Israel’s plans to occupy a Jerusalem neighborhood housing Palestinians. Iran reportedly provides Hamas $70 million a year in general support. Reports emerged this week that Iran would add $30 million a month to the terrorist group (quintuple its current annual subsidies) for information on the locations and capabilities of Israeli missiles.
This all comes as Biden faces pressure from his own party to reject Israel’s right to self-defense. On Sunday, 29 Democrat senators demanded an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, revealing an increasingly sharp Democrat divide over America’s alliance with Israel that Biden will find tough to navigate.
Biden has done more in four short months to erase the strong progress that President Trump achieved in four years on Iran. Biden’s appeasement has thrown the region into turmoil and quite literally fueled Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel.
John Ullyot was Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and NSC Spokesman from 2019-2021.