New York Post

Iran Deal Redux

Trump’s desperatio­n for a Syria pact backfires

- Jonathan S. tobin Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of and a contributo­r to National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin

WHEN President Trump met earlier this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin, their exchange about Moscow’s interferen­ce in the 2016 presidenti­al election was all anyone seemed to care about. Trump’s efforts to present an agreement between the two countries on a cease-fire in Syria as a major achievemen­t were largely ignored by a media determined to focus exclusivel­y on allegation­s of collusion between the Republican­s and Russia.

But it turns out his critics were wrong to dismiss the Syrian pact as a distractio­n. It’s now clear that in his eagerness for a deal, the president fell into virtually the same trap his predecesso­r did when he signed the Iran nuclear deal.

The real surprise here is that the biggest critic of the Syrian pact is one of the president’s staunchest friends: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He spoke out once he discovered that Trump hadn’t taken into ac- count Israel’s concerns about Iran being the real beneficiar­y of the agreement. (The White House now says Israeli concerns will be taken into considerat­ion, but it said the same before the deal was reached, too.)

Like it or not, the Russian and Iranian forces fighting on behalf of the barbarous Bashar al-Assad regime appear to have prevailed. Yet Russia and Iran aren’t content with just keeping their client in power. They want Western recognitio­n not just of Assad’s victory but also of their occupation of Syrian territory.

US acquiescen­ce to the Russian presence in Syria is the first step toward the realizatio­n of Putin’s dream of reassembli­ng the old Soviet empire. Once President Barack Obama punted enforcemen­t of his “red line” about Assad’s use of chemical weapons to the Russians, there was probably no way to roll back Putin’s ambitions.

But what Trump has done now by trying to pull a foreign-policy victory out of his meeting with Putin is arguably almost as bad as Obama’s feckless Syrian re- treat. The cease-fire terms would ensure that Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliarie­s get a free hand in southern Syria — and that the Iranian presence will become permanent.

Israel has kept a close watch on Hezbollah’s activities in Syria and launched strikes to prevent Iran from using the civil war as cover to transfer heavy arms to its Lebanese allies or allowing the group to establish bases close to its border. Yet if Trump’s cease-fire lets Iran put military facilities adjacent to Israel — something Jerusalem has said it can’t tolerate — that increases the chances of conflict with an Islamist regime that is dedicated to Israel’s destructio­n.

Just as troubling is that this will enable Tehran to achieve its dream of a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterran­ean. Just as Obama’s bugout from Iraq allowed Iran to become the dominant power in that nation, the Trump seal of approval on Assad’s victory could give it the same power in Syria and enable it to link up with a Lebanon dominated by its terrorist errand boys.

That’s the same nightmare of Iranian regional hegemony that scared Arab nations as much as it did the Israelis about the nuclear deal.

Unlike Obama, Trump isn’t laboring under the delusion that Iran’s leaders are moderates. He understand­s the Iranians are a threat to both the United States and its allies. The problem is that he still refuses to accept that he must choose between his good relations with Russia and getting tough with Iran.

Trump spent the 2016 campaign talking up cooperatio­n with Russia against ISIS and denouncing Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. But events in Syria have proved him wrong. Russia and Iran are interested in Syria for reasons that have nothing to do with fighting ISIS. Indeed, the survival of their man Assad ensures that the terrorist group will continue to retain Sunni support since it is seen as the only local force resisting the regime.

Rather than ignore Israel’s warnings, the president must wake up and realize that acting as if he can tilt toward Russia while also resisting Iran means that Trump is, in effect, making his own awful Iran deal with implicatio­ns that could be almost as deadly in the long run as Obama’s folly.

 ??  ?? Bend your ear: Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump got along in Jerusalem in May, but split sharply on the Syrian cease-fire.
Bend your ear: Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump got along in Jerusalem in May, but split sharply on the Syrian cease-fire.
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