Nearly 30 years ago, the United States used its diplomatic clout to persuade Israel and its Arab neighbors to meet publicly for the first time, at the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, which opened the door to greater Arab acceptance of Israel.
On Wednesday and Thursday, leaders of Israel and Arab states met publicly again, at an international conference in Warsaw staged by the Trump administration. But the goal of this meeting, drawing officials of some 60 nations, was not peacemaking. It was to rally support for economic and political war with Iran, for which the United States has found little enthusiasm among allies since withdrawing from the 2015 deal that restricts Iran’s nuclear program.
Administration officials initially tried to promote their agenda under an amorphous “seeking peace in the Middle East” rubric. But there was no denying the real purpose, especially when Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s militantly anti-Iran prime minister, sent out a since-deleted tweet that proclaimed “an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries, that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s office on Thursday released a video of a closed meeting in which senior Arab officials played down concerns about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and defended Israel’s right to defend itself, while denouncing Iran as the greatest threat to regional peace.
While the Trump administration, Mr. Netanyahu and Sunni Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf may have enjoyed this anti-mullah pep rally, it highlighted how few major powers are cheering along. France, Germany and Britain, along with Russia and China, still support the agreement they helped the Obama administration negotiate with Iran. Iran itself continues to uphold it, according to American intelligence agencies.
Britain sent its foreign minister to the conference, but France and Germany, apparently reluctant to be part of such a bellicose bashing, sent lower level diplomats. China sent no one, nor did Russia, which was busy conducting a meeting on Syria with Turkey and Iran. Even Poland, which hosted the Warsaw conference at the request of the administration, believes in the Iran nuclear agreement.
Major European companies left the Iranian market after President Trump withdrew from the pact and reinstated American sanctions. But European governments, struggling to keep the deal alive in defiance of Mr. Trump, last week began a barter system that could enable some smaller companies to continue to do business with Iran. That drew an aggressive response at the conference from Vice President Mike Pence, who denounced the Europeans for trying to “break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”
Mr. Trump denounces Iran for its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism, jailing American and Iranian political prisoners, its involvement in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq, and 40 years of repression at home. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a television interviewer, the administration is counting on Iranians, under growing economic pressure, to “rise up” and change their regime.
Yet Iran is not alone in destabilizing the region. The administration undercuts its credibility when one of its chief allies in its campaign against Iran is Saudi Arabia, whose de facto ruler is believed to have ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and has directed a war in Yemen that Congress has denounced for its toll in innocent lives.
If the administration wants to stand up to the challenges posed by Iran, it will only be able to do so with global support, particularly from its longstanding democratic allies in Europe.