Top US Pundit Danielle Pletka looks at US election implications for Israel and Australia

July 16, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) conducted a webinar on July 14 with Danielle Pletka, senior fellow in foreign and defence policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute think tank.

Danielle Pletka

Pletka is also a professor of US Middle East policy at Georgetown University, to discuss the potential implications of the upcoming US election on its foreign policy. The main focus was on policy approaches to Iran and its proxies, China and Israel, and their relationships to one another.

“We tend to think of when we have an incumbent in one seat – Donald Trump in the White House – and an outsider coming in is that we have a choice between the status quo or change,” Pletka said. However, she argued, there’s no guarantee of a continuing status quo in a theoretical Trump second term, so “we are potentially looking at two change scenarios.”

The most positive aspects of Donald Trump, at least in the eyes of pro-Israel voters, is not only how strongly he has supported Israel – including moving the embassy to Jerusalem and recognising the Golan Heights as Israeli territory – but how harsh he has been against its primary enemies: Iran and its regional proxies.

“Every single candidate for the Republican nomination in 2016 said that they would rip up the JCPOA, the so-called Iran deal,” Pletka points out but added she was dubious any of them would have fulfilled this promise once becoming President due to internal inertia and resistance in Washington and allied pressure. Trump, on the other hand, ignored all the pressure, tore up the deal and reimposed powerful sanctions. “One of the main reasons we were hesitant about pulling out of the JCPOA was because we thought it would be very difficult for the United States to unilaterally reimpose sanctions that would actually be… crippling.” The Trump administration has proved that it was not only possible but has imposed a powerful sanctions regime “that has bitten on the Iranians like nothing they’ve ever seen in their 40 plus year reign,” she noted.

In terms of how Joe Biden might handle Iran, Pletka argues that “As top Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee [where Pletka previously worked], I suspect he would’ve thought that the JCPOA was a bunch of rubbish… but as Vice-President under Barack Obama he was a great enthusiast.” All of his advisors are pushing him to reenter the JCPOA or otherwise reduce the pressure on Iran, so it’s unclear what he’ll do.

“I would really be tempted to vote for 1995 Joe Biden: he’s a centrist Democrat, absolute foreign policy hawk,” she says. But in the interim, he’s been Obama’s Vice President and his advisors, and the Democratic party more broadly has moved substantially to the Left. The party is “increasingly anti-Israel,” and its hostility to Israel and our other Middle Eastern allies, as well as its general dovishness, could potentially guide Biden’s policies in a worrying direction, she warned.


An Israeli move to apply sovereignty to areas of the West Bank might not substantially change the relationship with an already Israel-skeptical Democratic party, Pletka argued, but it could badly damage Israel’s regional relations. “The Israelis have to realise that this will put at risk their newfound warm relationship with a lot of the Arab world.” Since this may be their only opportunity to do so, they may still calculate it’s worth that risk.

When it comes to China, and current Australian concerns about its increasing assertiveness in our region, “I think there’s no question that the Trump administration has been extraordinarily tough,” as opposed to the Obama administration, whose ‘pivot to Asia’ was mostly rhetorical, Pletka argued. A Biden administration would likely be weaker on China if it’s anything like the Obama administration, she added.

Furthermore, “almost everything in the United States political sphere revolves around Donald Trump. So for the Democrats, a lot of what has animated their policy is to be anti-Donald Trump.” She suggested that if current Democratic hawkishness on Russia and other issues is solely a result of being anti-Trump, that hawkishness could evaporate once Trump leaves office.

The Israel-China relationship “has been a thorn in the side of the United States for decades,” Pletka also warned. She called the dangerous elements of the Israel-China relationship a “blind spot,” for Jerusalem, emphasising “that the Trump administration has raised this at the highest levels, repeatedly, on every visit.”

Even more concerning, however, is the recent reporting on a comprehensive strategic economic and security deal between China and Iran. “This is an opportunity for Beijing to basically say ‘screw you’ to Washington” she said of the mooted deal. China has all the leverage and Iran is in dire need of a wealthy, powerful benefactor due to the crushing sanctions but, especially given changing attitudes towards China following the COVID-19 pandemic, major Chinese companies could find themselves under US sanctions following such a deal, Pletka suggested. The UK and even the Germans have begun taking a much stronger stand against China, she noted, making such sanctions more likely to be effective.

Commenting on the recent series of mysterious explosions in Iran, including one at a centrifuge production facility in Natanz and another at a missile base, Pletka argued that they “have got the Iranian government absolutely off its keel, not sure what’s going on, extraordinarily angry, lashing out, but… the Iranians don’t feel like they can step up with Hezbollah.” Whereas Iran might have used Hezbollah to distract and retaliate against Israel in the past, Pletka argues that the Trump Administration’s pressure has constrained this ability.

As for Hezbollah itself, the economic collapse of Lebanon “should be an opportunity for us to crush, in many ways, Hezbollah,” she said. This includes banning the group in Australia in its entirety. The difference between the military wing and the political wing of Hezbollah “is a facade that nobody signs up to anymore. Nobody.”

“For too long we’ve been willing to sort of pretending that there’s a State of Lebanon, this mythical state of Lebanon that exists separate from Hezbollah,” Pletka added, “Hezbollah dominates the government, they dominate the political scene, they dominate the military, and they are a terrorist organisation.”


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