Delusional in Davos

Column: Iran, not Israel, is the obstacle to Middle East peace

(Screenshot via State Department YouTube)
January 18, 2024

Secretary of State Antony Blinken sat for an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday. It was not reassuring.

The exchange began with a discussion of the Middle East. The region has been aflame since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, 2023, murdering 1,200 Israelis, kidnapping hundreds more, and spiriting away the innocents into an underground hell.

For the past 104 days, Israel has sought to destroy Hamas and free the captives. Throughout, Hezbollah in Lebanon has been fighting a low-intensity conflict with Israel. Militias have attacked U.S. forces deployed in Syria and Iraq hundreds of times. Houthi terrorists have fired drones and rockets at commercial shipping and U.S. naval assets in the Red Sea. On the morning Blinken spoke in Davos, Iran launched missiles into Syria, Iraq, and nuclear-armed Pakistan.

War rages. What most interests Tom Friedman, however, are the chances for a Palestinian state. He says it's the key to peace in the Middle East—a position from which he has not wavered, despite all evidence to the contrary, for more than 20 years. Antony Blinken is more than happy to indulge in this delusion.

"If you take a regional approach," he told Friedman, "and if you pursue integration with security, with a Palestinian state, all of a sudden you have a region that's come together in ways that answer the most profound questions that Israel has tried to answer for years, and what has heretofore been its single biggest concern in terms of security, Iran, is suddenly isolated along with its proxies, and will have to make decisions about what it wants its future to be."

Pierce through the bureaucratic lingo, and you encounter a statement breathtaking in its unseriousness. In a world filled with crises, the U.S. secretary of state has decided to resume a generations-long quest for the diplomatic Holy Grail: a Palestinian state. Governed by whom? His answer is a "stronger, reformed Palestinian Authority that can more effectively deliver for its own people."

Where will that come from? Jupiter? This "stronger, reformed Palestinian Authority" won't be the product of the corrupt 88-year-old Holocaust denier who is in the 18th year of his 4-year term. Or the 72 percent of Palestinians who say Hamas's atrocities were "correct." To say nothing of Israel, which would not accept, nor should be forced to accept, a Palestinian state that coddles and provides safe harbor for terrorists.

A Palestinian state is a nonstarter until Israel defeats its enemies, reestablishes deterrence, and evicts UNRWA from the premises. It is a nonstarter until the Palestinian Authority ends its incitement to murder and its payments to the families of stabbers, killers, and mad bombers.

Antony Blinken—Harvard '84, Columbia Law '88—is apparently unaware that wishing does not make things so. The story he tells is fantasy. Before October 7, the "regional integration" Blinken desires was on track not because a Palestinian state was imminent, but because the Sunni Arab powers saw it in their national interest to join with Israel in balancing against Iran.

It was in the Sunni Arab interest to back the "strong horse" of Israel and its ally, the United States, to ward off the Shiite radicals. Nor is the region disintegrating because the Palestinians remain stateless. It's falling apart because Israel has been weakened and American power has declined.

Iran is missing from Blinken's analysis. He says that a Palestinian state will isolate Iran and force it "to make decisions about what it wants its future to be." Has he not been paying attention? Iran has made its decision. The mullahs want to remain in power. They want the revolution to spread. They want Israel gone and the United States in retreat. That's where any serious analysis must start.

The transcript of Blinken's conversation runs for 6,868 words. Israel is namechecked 23 times. Iran is mentioned just six times. And four of those six mentions are references to how Donald Trump shouldn't have withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal. "We had Iran's nuclear program in a box," Blinken said. "Since the agreement was torn up, it's escaped from that box, and we're now at a place where we didn't want to be because we don't have the agreement."

Wrong, Mr. Secretary. Iran was violating the misguided nuclear deal from the get-go. It used the money it received on cash pallets to fund its terrorist proxies across the Greater Middle East. John Kerry's piece of paper didn't box Iran in. The Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign, including the killing of IRGC general Qassem Soleimani, did that. Iran escaped when Joe Biden entered office and reversed the Trump policies, hoping that sanctions relief and an open hand would revive the deal.

Iran slapped the hand away. Worse: The ayatollah accelerated his nuclear program, crushed a popular uprising, supplied drones and missiles to Russia to use against Ukrainian civilians, watched gleefully as Hamas massacred Jews, and ordered his proxies to spread havoc. Yet the United States continues to refrain from imposing serious consequences on Iranian personnel, on Iranian equipment, on Iranian interests. We chase after dreams rather than confront the reality of Iranian malevolence.

Maybe the thin mountain air made Blinken feel lightheaded. Maybe he wanted to make Tom Friedman happy. Maybe beneath the Davos veneer of self-congratulation and cliché there is a democratic realist plotting the renewal of American power.

If not, we're in trouble. An individual in the grip of delusion endangers himself and others. A delusional superpower endangers itself—and the world.