Sandstorms in the Middle East — and At Home



Chamsim is Arabic for “sandstorm,” and that term is an apt metaphor for the always-roiling Middle East.  Consider these major ongoing developments:

• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are in legal jeopardy.  Israeli police recommended that the couple be indicted for attempting to bribe an Israeli newspaper into publishing only positive stories about Bibi, and for alleged extravagant spending of government funds for personal enrichment.

There already are calls for Netanyahu to resign, but time after time he has proven to be very adroit at staying in power. As the persistent corruption charges continue to swirl around him, perhaps for the good of his own country he should step down from his post. Recall that the widely popular Yitzhak Rabin resigned from his first term as prime minister when it was revealed that his wife, Leah, violated Israeli law when she deposited a modest amount of funds in an American bank. 

A weakened prime minister under a growing dark cloud of alleged corruption cannot effectively govern. It might be in Israel’s interests to seek new leadership. Such a change seems unlikely, since Netanyahu is far ahead of his rivals in opinion polls.

• War clouds are hovering on Israel’s northern border. In the most serious confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, the extremist Islamic terrorist organization, the Israel Defense Forces have launched cross-border attacks into Lebanon to destroy a network of tunnels into northern Israel— built not only to commit acts of terrorism, but, according to Israeli sources, to attempt to capture Israeli territory in the Galilee.

• Hezbollah learned how to build terrorist tunnels from Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip.  Coincidentally, the lame duck U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, failed despite a valiant effort, to secure passage of a General Assembly resolution condemning terrorist actions by Hamas. It received a majority of votes, but the body had adopted a move by Kuwait that required a two-thirds majority.

• While all of the above sandstorms were battering the Mideast, tension grew in the United States as well.

To replace Haley at the UN, President Donald Trump nominated Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman and former personality on Fox News. The move came as part of an administration shakeup, when Trump also announced William Barr’s nomination to become attorney general and the upcoming departure of John Kelly as chief of staff.

Nauert may be generally well regarded as a spokesperson, but she has little if any true diplomatic experience. The appointment reinforces the disdain that the White House has for the UN.

Nauert drew attention in June when she was asked about German-American relations in the past. Unbelievably, she chose to highlight the D-Day invasion by the Allies in World War II, a key event in the defeat of the Nazis.

“When you talk about Germany, we have a very strong relationship with the government of Germany,” she explained, adding: “Looking back in the history books, today is the 71st anniversary of the speech that announced the Marshall Plan. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the D-Day invasion. We obviously have a very long history with the government of Germany, and we have a strong relationship with the government.”

Such statements undercut any effort to take the lead in international relations. Given the current standing of the United States in world affairs, the nation needs someone with experience in diplomacy and world affairs, not someone whose career has been spent primarily at Fox News.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, noted that in his most recent appearance at the U.N., Trump’s speech drew laughter from the crowd – not exactly the response a head of state wants to hear. Murphy’s verdict on Nauert: “She is clearly not qualified for this job.”

Let’s hope she can learn from her predecessor. In contrast with Nauert’s scant resume, Haley, who demonstrated executive and negotiating skills as a former governor, knew better how to navigate the shark tank of politics in the halls of the U.N. headquarters. There is more to diplomacy than reading carefully worded statements without stammering.  

Replacing Haley will be a challenge. Not since the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan has there been such a consistent a courageous voice at the U.N. defending Israel against the onslaught of hundreds of anti-Israel resolutions. We warmly thank her for her courage and service and hope Heather Nauert can fill her shoes and follow her example.