World

Israeli Ambassador on Trump in the Middle East: Iran remains the crucial issue

President Donald Trump arrives in the Middle East with a large number of issues on his agenda.  In Israel alone he is set to grapple with the possibility of moving the U.S. embassy, the chance he will recognize Jerusalem as our capital and the ever-present possibility of restarting the peace process with the Palestinians.

While these are all extremely important causes which are fully supported and encouraged by Israel, they pale in comparison to the main task at hand when the leaders of our two countries meet: grappling with the increasingly growing menace of Iran in our region.

Just recently we witnessed the most horrific manifestation of Iran’s influence in our region in Syria.  The world was outraged, and our hearts ached, as the extent of these crimes against humanity became apparent with the gassing of innocent women and children.

Though there is no doubt that the primary blame for these crimes lies with Damascus, the ayatollahs in Teheran are accomplices in the atrocities taking place every single day in Syria.  Assad and his henchmen are puppets of the Iranian regime, propped up with their funding, trained by their military advisers and armed with their weapons.

In Israel, we know firsthand about Iran's attempts to spread terror and violence. Our latest intelligence about Hezbollah in Lebanon shows that this terrorist organization has increased its stockpile from 6,000 rockets and missiles in 2006 to almost 130,000 even more advanced weapons today.  We also know that Hezbollah is constantly improving the range and accuracy of their rockets and now are capable of targeting 90 percent of Israel.

This Iranian proxy entrenched along our northern border is placing its weapons in homes, mosques and hospitals with the intention of once again committing a double war crime by targeting our civilians while using Lebanese women and children as their human shields.

Iran’s Republican Guards “Quds Force” trains the Hezbollah fighters, funnels money to them and directly provides the terrorists with these deadly weapons.  These Iranian arms are sent on convoys over land, smuggled in from the sea and even unabashedly shipped on civilian airlines, like Mahan Air, and then flown into Damascus and Beirut. 

Throughout the Middle East, wherever there is terror, death and a complete disregard for human life, there is Iran.

Along our southern border, Iran’s intentions are clear as well.  As Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouk, stated last June, "The support offered by Iran to the Palestinian resistance - be it in logistics, training or funds - is unmatched and beyond the capabilities of other countries."  This support has been used by Hamas to replenish its weapons supply and today their arsenal is estimated to include over 12,000 rockets aimed at Israel. 

At the same time, Hamas is spending millions of dollars on digging sophisticated terror tunnels to try to attack our border communities. They aim to attack kindergartens and community centers with the hope of massacring as many innocent people as possible.  Funding for these terror activities comes directly from Iran which has declared that support for this “resistance” is part of their foreign policy. 

The deadly model that Iran has perfected in Lebanon and Gaza is now being reproduced in Yemen as well.  There too Iran is supplying extremist elements with advanced weaponry and providing the Houthis with military training.  In recent months, this aid has increased.

And, just as in Lebanon and Gaza, the Iranians are smuggling weapons into Yemen either directly on ships, or through Somalia to avoid coalition detection efforts.  Recently, Kornet anti-tank weapons and long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching deep into Saudi Arabia have made their way into Yemen courtesy of the Iranians.

Iran does not only threaten our region through proxies.  Leaving aside the dangers of their supposedly dormant nuclear program and the ticking clock towards the sunset clause associated with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement, Iran’s continued testing of ballistic missiles is extremely alarming.

These tests are in direct defiance of the international community. The UN Security Council has clearly stated in resolution 2231 adopting the nuclear agreement that Iran is, "not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles."  Yet, since that resolution was adopted in 2015, Iran has conducted at least 14 ballistic missile tests.  The Iranians’ intentions for these missiles are no mystery.  In fact, just last month they displayed their missiles in a military parade and wrote on one of them: “Death to Israel.”

Throughout the Middle East, wherever there is terror, death and a complete disregard for human life, there is Iran.  This alliance of evil anchored by Iran must be met head on.

We are grateful for America’s leadership in fighting ISIS, standing up to Assad and attempting to assist in finally bringing peace with the Palestinians.  Yet as worthy as these causes are, what is needed right now is a concerted effort to confront Iran by stringently enforcing sanctions that are in place, judiciously weighing further possible restrictions and continuing to leave all other options on the table in facing this extremist regime.

As my colleague, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, noted in a recent Security Council meeting, “If we are speaking honestly about conflict in the Middle East, we need to start with the chief culprit, Iran.”  Let us heed these important words and utilize President Trump’s visit to the region to renew our joint efforts to stymie the influence of Iran. 

Israel, the U.S. and numerous moderate countries throughout the Middle East must work together in pressing on until this regime is isolated and no longer poses a threat to its neighbors and the world as a whole.   

Danny Danon is Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations.