Calming the Persian Gulf Is an Israeli Interest

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he departs for Camp David from the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2019.
Carlos Barria / Reuters

Judging by the U.S. president’s fickle tweets, the Persian Gulf was on the verge of erupting in a violent conflict just a few minutes before he called off a military operation. The reason for the possible conflict was the downing of an American drone by Iranian forces. Iran says the aircraft penetrated its air space, a claim the U.S. administration denies.

Donald Trump began his verbal escalation with a tweet that “Iran made a very big mistake!” – in other words, it could expect to pay a heavy price for shooting down the drone. Then he walked it back by saying that “somebody” in Iran had made a mistake that shouldn’t have happened.

Trump explained his decision to call off the attack by citing assessments that it might have killed 150 Iranians. Did Trump know this before he ordered his forces to prepare for war? Was it proportionality that bothered the president who doesn’t hesitate to help Saudi Arabia in its bloody war against Yemen, in which tens of thousands of civilians have died? And is it possible to take the president’s words seriously when he threatens a war of destruction against Iran yet shows mercy for the lives of its people?

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It’s doubtful whether the U.S. administration has a clear plan against Iran to defend Persian Gulf shipping, to halt a resumption of uranium enrichment beyond the limits set by the nuclear agreement, or any strategy if the heavy sanctions he has imposed on Iran don’t yield the desired results.

Israel, which continues to support the president’s policy and even encourages him to deal painful blows to Iran, is acting as if it were a spectator with no responsibility for developments in the Gulf following the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the imposition of sanctions on Iran – policy that was adopted at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bidding.

But Israelis have to be concerned about any violent conflict between the United States and Iran because Israel tops Iran’s target list, or so Netanyahu has portrayed the threat from the east. Israeli intelligence assessments that a conflict in the Gulf could spark action by Hezbollah and other groups in the region, and the Saudis’ and other Gulf states’ fears of a war erupting there, are not without reason.

Calming the Gulf is an Israeli interest, and as long as Netanyahu has influence on Trump he must use it to prevent any deterioration of the situation. His responsibility toward his country’s citizens is to make clear to Trump – who called off an attack for fear that 150 Iranians would die – that any military conflict could cause the deaths of many more Israelis and people in the wider region.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.