February 9, 2017 | Quoted by Ariel Ben Solomon - JNS.org

Trump’s Iran sanctions realign US Mideast policy back toward Sunnis and Israel

President Donald Trump’s administration issued new sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile program Friday, marking a major step toward realigning U.S. policy in the Middle East away from the Obama administration’s rapprochement with the Iranian-Shi’a axis and back toward supporting the interests of America’s traditional Sunni regional allies.

The newly announced sanctions target 25 individuals and entities associated with Iran’s ballistic missile program, in response to the recent Iranian ballistic missile test that purportedly violated a United Nations resolution forbidding the Islamic Republic from conducting such tests for eight years after the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal. With the sanctions, Trump backed up his administration’s warning from earlier in the week that put Iran “on notice” about its ballistic missile tests and support for terrorism.

David Andrew Weinberg, a specialist on Gulf affairs and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS.org that since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, all American presidents have favored friendly Sunni Arab states over Iran. However, Weinberg said, “many Sunni leaders were understandably disappointed that the Obama administration sought to engage with Iran, cut a deal on the nuclear file, and avoided pushing back militarily.”

Now, the Sunni Gulf states are “uniformly glad to see a new U.S. administration that seems more willing to push back against Iran's regional influence and aggression,” he said. At the same time, Trump’s immigration ban is eliciting deep concern among America's Arab allies, “although they are downplaying that concern in hopes of a more productive relationship with Washington versus Iran—or versus the Muslim Brotherhood in the case of Egypt,” according to Weinberg.

Some of America's Arab allies are also wary that the immigration ban could be expanded to apply to their nations, as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus suggested Sunday. “That is particularly problematic for Saudi Arabia, the UAE (United Arab Emirates and Egypt),” said Weinberg.

The Gulf expert noted that the Gulf Cooperation Council—a regional body representing Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE—criticized the immigration restrictions when Trump announced the idea during the election campaign. The ban’s recent implementation elicited criticism from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which is based in Saudi Arabia and heavily influenced by that country’s government.

“But for now, America’s Arab allies—except for Yemen and Iraq, which are themselves targeted by the executive order—are largely staying quiet, except for some measured criticism by Qatar's foreign minister in response to a press question on it, and an effort to publicly defend the ban by the UAE's foreign minister,” Weinberg said.

Indeed, the outlier on the Sunni side’s staunch opposition to Iran is Qatar, and it is unclear if Trump will seek to clamp down on incitement and radicalism emanating from that Gulf state. Iran and Qatar both fund Hamas, the Palestinian terror group committed to Israel’s destruction.

Weinberg, who recently published a report on Qatar’s financing of terror, said it is unclear whether or not the Trump administration will give the Qatar a pass because of its pledged investments in the U.S.—including $10 billion in U.S. infrastructure, a priority for Trump.

“Or, will Trump be tough on the Qataris,” asked Weinberg, “because of their ongoing negligence toward hate preachers and toward funders of al-Qaeda, as well as Qatar's affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood, an extremist group that several senior members of the new U.S. administration intensely oppose and want to designate as a terrorist organization?”

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