by Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Any attempt to assess Donald Trump's Middle East policy faces real difficulties as it is reasonable to assume that he lacks the requisite knowledge, deep understanding and most certainly the experience for dealing with the Middle East, its history, religions, ideologies, trends, the powers that move it, wars that tear it apart, Israel and its issues, and Russian involvement in the terrible catastrophe that is Syria, whose waves are flooding Europe's shores and crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
A predictive analysis of what Trump's election will mean for the Middle East and the Jews, in Israel and the USA.
In addition, the fact is that all through last year's campaign, Trump did not give a clear indication of a comprehensive Middle East policy, with the exception of three pronouncements: his plans to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, his plans to open the Iran Agreement and his insistence on stopping Islamic migration to the US, including Syrian refugees. These pronouncements may have simply been aimed at attracting voters, mainly Jews, but they may also express his real intentions.
That is why I am going to base my predictions for America's Middle East policy for the next few years on the impressions I received during the past year, particularly from listening closely to Trump's speeches at public events that were broadcast by the media.
First of all, the main factor behind Trump's opinions is not information or facts but his gut feelings. This is a typical trait among successful businessmen who feel that they know everything and no one knows better than they, as they say to themselves: "I am a billionaire and my adviser lives on a salary. If he were smarter than I am, he would be the billionaire and I would be earning that salary."
In Trump's campaign speeches he played on his listener's emotions, saying things like "I will make America great again!" and "I will bring back hope to the hearts of Americans!!" "I will stop Islamic migration to the USA!!" - this last declaration taking advantage of the growing anti-Islamic feeling in the USA, partly due to the terror attacks perpetrated by radical Muslims in the US on 9/11, at Ford Hood, Times Square, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, Orlando and more. and partly due to what is happening in Europe (unvetted migration, violence in the streets, terror in Paris, Brussels and more) and to the terrible photoraphs that are sent 24/7 from the Middle East.
Politics has many faces and its issues are never black and white, good or bad. Instead, they are composed of a mixture of negative and positive elements. Politics is the "art of the possible," an unending attempt to accentuate the positive and strengthen it, while accepting the negative as part of the rules of the game and an attempt to weaken its influence. The business world, on the other hand, is a world of black and white, good or bad, profit or loss. Here the picture has much more dichotomy, its colors are clear, there is only one bottom line - and it shows either a plus or a minus end result. There are intermediate periods of balance, but there is no situation of "both this and that."
In business, deals are finalized, while in politics, the process is long, complex,and aimed at objectives that are often not final, not enforced in the end because of political and not business world considerations. Often, businesses have different ethical rules than those of politicians, at least when those rules do not lead to financial success.
The first question regarding Trump has to do with whether he will think like a politician or a businessman. Judging by his repeated pronouncements against the American political establishment, Republican and especially Democrat, it is reasonable to assume that Trump thinks and decides things like a businessman, and that what will guide his decisions are the questions of what he feels is best for America, what strengthens her, what best serves her interests, empowers her economy, creates more jobs, who are her enemies and who are her friends.
If that is going to be his way of thinking when he turns to the issue of formulating his Middle East policy, it will probably have the following characteristics:
1. The basis for his policy will be branding the sides in the area as "friends and allies" or "enemies." That will bring him back to the terminology used by George W. Bush, who would constantly refer to countries as "our friend and ally," a term Obama was careful to avoid, because that made everyone else our "enemy." My feeling is that Trump will call Israel "our best ally" and possibly keep his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. The ideological and mental click between Trump and Netanyahu will create a cordial and warm atmosphere between the two, which will be the basis for an exchange of opinions, a meeting of the minds and cooperation in the deepest sense of the word. Trump will thus repair the situation that sullied US-Israel relations for the past eight years, while Obama lived in the White House.
That aside, there can also be a scenario in which Trump loses his patience and tells Netanyahu something like: "My dear friend, after 50 years of 'occupation' (as some Israelis call it) please be kind enough to sit down with your Arab neighbors and reach an agreement with them, and you have six months to do this. If you don't succeed, at the end of six months I will solve the problem my own way using my own methods, so for your own sake, don't let us get to that point."
Trump could even justify this dictate by pointing out that he moved the embassy to Jerusalem. This "business" approach - recognizing Jerusalem in return for leaving Judea and Samaria will put Israel in a difficult position, especially since both houses of congress are Republican and it does not stand to reason that they would invite Netanyahu to deliver a speech that is in direct disagreement with the president's policies, as they did during Obama's term of office.
Trump will be extremely warm to Egyptian President al Sisi, because Sisi has to deal with Islamist terrorists, Trump's biggest fear. His relations with Saudi Arabia will probably be chilly because of Saudi involvement in 9/11, the money the Saudis invest in spreading Wahabee Islam in the US and other parts of the world and because of Saudi support for terrorists, particularly in Syria.
Trump may try to reach clear understandings with Putin on the Middle East, firstly because Putin is doing the right thing in Trump's opinion, in order to eradicate the Islamist terror that threatens Syria's very existence as a nation state, and also because Putin has already taken the reins in the Middle East, the region Trump sees as a foggy marsh that no normal human being would want to come near. In my opinion, Trump will wish Putin every success in ridding Syria of terrorists, without the need for US interference. If Putin requests aid from the US in his war against ISIS, Trump will be happy to cooperate with him.
Trump has said many times that the nuclear agreement with Iran is a bad one and will try to cancel it. If I were an Iranian Ayatollah, I would begin worrying about Trump's policies and probable attitude to Iran.
And what about the Jews?
Trump's attitude towards US Jewry is complex. On the one hand, he is surrounded by Jews - his daughter Ivanka underwent an Orthodox conversion, his son-in-law is Jewish, and he is also surrounded by Jewish advisers, some of whom wear kippahs without giving it a second thought. Onthe other hand, the Republican party has some voters who speak about Jews as worthy candidates for genocide.
In all fairness, it must be noted that the Democratic party has no shortage of anti-Semites. The last DNC included PLO flags waving outside the convention hall, and former president Jimmy Carter, one of the party's respected figures, published a book whose title calls Israel an apartheid state - implying that it is worthy of disappearing just as South Africa's apartheid regime did.
I am concerned about America's reaction to the fact that Trump is surrounded by Jews, because even if they play no part in the formation of his policies, there will be those who will accuse them of pro-Israel bias and of influencing Trump's policies in that direction. We have already seen people accusing the Jewish Lobby, during the days of George W. Bush, of running US foreign policy and of instigating the Iraq War (2003). There are even two academics who published a book about it. Trump's time in the White House may unleash the same anti-Jewish genies from the bottle.
And one last point: There are approximately two months until Trump enters the White House, on the afternoon of January 20, 2017. President Obama has full presidential authority up to that date and can make decisions that create a problematic reality for Israel and Trump, such as a UN Security Council decision recognizing a Palestinian State whose capital is Jerusalem. I suspect that there are those, such as J Street, who will respond to Trumps' victory by trying their utmost to get Obama to recognize a Palestinian State whose capital is Jerusalem while he still can. Israel will need all its diplomatic skills and all its real friends in the USA and the world to prevent this from happening.
My blessings and best wishes to Donald J. Trump from here for a successful presidency.
Written for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky, Arutz Sheva Op-ed and Judaism editor.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.
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