Despite the momentum that Israel gave to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent tour to the Middle East, with its missile attacks on Aleppo and Hama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s televised “Iran lied” speech, it soon faded and dissipated. Iran managed to contain the missile attack on its bases in Syria, which became a source of concern among Israelis as rumours spread about the possibility of an Iranian response. They, in turn, led to a fall on the Israeli stock market and anticipation of the results of and fallout from the Lebanese elections. Israel’s agenda has become linked to Lebanon’s; those who realise the political significance of this will find it amusing.
The Europeans rushed to announce that the nuclear agreement with Iran will not be subject to any revisions. According to British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, Iran is committed to the agreement. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, insisted that Netanyahu said nothing new regarding Iran and that Tehran is committed to the nuclear deal. She also pointed out that there is no intention to review it, but there is a possibility of holding separate negotiations with Iran to reach an agreement on its missile programme.
Pompeo’s tour hit a brick wall given the EU’s united position. More importantly, the discussions included Russia after Macron contacted President Vladimir Putin, who confirmed his commitment to the nuclear agreement. Hence, Trump’s comments about tearing up the nuclear deal and the possibility of doing so on 12 May became a source of major embarrassment and an issue he has to deal with on his own.
Meanwhile, Iran took the initiative when the Revolutionary Guards Corps stated that there is no intention of developing missiles with a range of more than 2,400 kilometres. A spokesman for the Corps also opened the door to long-term negotiations regarding Iran’s missile programme, thus pulling the Trump administration towards talks lasting several years. Iran has considerable experience in negotiations; the nuclear agreement is a clear example. American officials at the time saw the nuclear deal as an achievement. Trump and his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, have spoken of the possibility of sitting at the negotiating table with Iran, a matter which the Gulf States must watch closely. What has confused and disorientated the latter is that Trump is not doing anything very different to what Obama did. The indicators are that the Gulf efforts to contain Iran and sabotage the nuclear deal are likely to be a waste of time.
Pompeo achieved little during his tour. Instead, he reinforced Tehran’s stance, with the Iranian government appearing to be happy with the European, Russian and Chinese positions. The US and Israel look isolated within the international arena, despite the brouhaha surrounding the Secretary of State’s visit.
Indeed, his failure did not end at the Iranian nuclear issue, but also extended to Gulf affairs. His statements about the need for unity in the Gulf were not taken seriously by the governments in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha. They were instead turned into ammunition in the media confrontation between the conflicting parties; nothing more and nothing less.
Moreover, Pompeo did nothing new regarding the Palestinian issue. His absolute support for Israel lost him any credibility that he might have had with his visit, not least his emphasis on Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. The visit also failed to provide Israel with any solutions for its crisis in the Gaza Strip resulting from the Great March of Return. Trump’s policy towards the Palestinian issue has undermined stability and opened the door to scenarios that are hard to imagine.
Overall, the US Secretary of State’s tour turned into a dismal spectacle devoid of any political content. One aspect was actually largely overlooked; America’s acceptance of the Turkish conditions and vision in Manbij. Pompeo basically agreed to share control of the city with Turkey, as well as to expel the Kurdish separatist forces. By doing so, he bypassed France’s eagerness to play a role in the region, and set in motion the first steps of America’s withdrawal from Syria, with a deal for US troops to leave the city within six months.
Mike Pompeo is a Secretary of State who has come up with nothing apart from mayhem. He has returned to Washington to fight his case at the State Department where he is due to appoint three new advisers. He also has a number of problems to address, not least the filling of ambassadorial vacancies and other staff positions. His battle for control of his Department’s $50 billion budget is possibly going to be harder than anything he faces in the Middle East or North Korea. The State Department tends to be a Democrat stronghold and so, at Trump’s bidding, Pompeo will be working to purge anyone who does not share his right-wing views. That is a battle that looks set to run for a long time.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 3 May 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.