Congress refuses to face ugly reality of modern Middle East

Regarding Iran and its Mideast foes, Congress has come to a strange conclusion: The enemy of our enemy is actually . . . the bad guy. It’s true: Even as Iran’s Mideast aggression increasingly threatens US assets and interests, Congress is looking to tighten the noose around Tehran’s Sunni Arab rivals.

As President Trump huddled with his team Thursday, weighing a response to Iran’s downing of a US drone over international waters in the Gulf, over on Capitol Hill a bipartisan group of senators celebrated their success in nixing a White House plan to sell sophisticated arms to Saudi Arabia and other Mideast allies.

Iran’s attack on the US drone followed assaults on oil tankers in the Gulf. America has long vowed to protect navigation on the high seas, and disrupting it is widely considered an act of war.

Some blame the attacks on Trump’s pullout of the flawed Iran nuclear deal. Yet Iranian aggression started long before that. Indeed, it’s been escalating for decades, manifesting in Mideast wars in Syria, Yemen, Gaza and beyond. It’s waged with proxies. And it’s meant to export its Shiite revolutionary zeal throughout the Mideast and beyond.

Meanwhile, Trump, who doesn’t shy from trade wars or wars of words, is famously averse to military war. He’d sooner let Mideast allies do their own fighting in their own region — and even help them if it’s in our interest.

Congress doesn’t seem to agree. On Thursday, the Senate passed a bipartisan resolution to block a White House-planned, $8 billion sale of sophisticated arms to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

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Senators have been hopping mad over last year’s assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. According to an investigator for the discredited UN Human Rights Council, Agnes Callamard, the murder was a “deliberate, premeditated execution.” In her report this week, she recommended punishing the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, for ordering the assassination — even before the investigation of his involvement is complete. Her targeting the prince must’ve only fueled Congress’ anti-Saudi fervor.

“Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia,” said the leading Republican behind Thursday’s vote, Sen. Lindsey Graham. He was livid not only about the Khashoggi mess, but the Saudi-led war in Yemen, described by a co-sponsor, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), as a “humanitarian disaster that has been exacerbated by the very weapons we have been giving the Saudis.”

The Senate’s blocking of the arms sale may be symbolic, as Trump is widely expected to veto the measure, and it’s not likely the Senate will have the votes to override. But it sends a dangerous signal.

And Trump’s right on the merits: Saudi behavior can be maddening as hell, but wars, like tango, take two. There are no angels on either side of the Mideast fault lines.

An Iranian missile, shot by its Yemeni allies, the Houthis, hit a Saudi desalinization plant Thursday. The Houthis have long used cheap Iranian-made missiles to hit Saudi civilian targets, forcing Riyadh to intercept them with very expensive missile-defense systems.

Such asymmetric proxy warfare against civilian targets underlies Iran’s strategy in exporting its Shiite revolution. The Saudis are in the frontline of that war.

Some in Congress, to their credit, point to another aspect of the war: America’s military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces. Since 2006, that aid was meant to help Beirut disarm Hezbollah, but now Sen. Ted Cruz is leading bipartisan legislation that would condition it on performance.

Cruz knows the Lebanese army can’t really disarm Hezbollah, which dominates the Beirut government and has strong presence in the army itself.

We’re “pouring over $1.7 billion in foreign assistance into the LAF,” said Republican Lee Zeldin, who along with Democrat Elaine Luria is pushing parallel legislation in the House of Representatives. Much of that aid, Zeldin added, ends up in the hands of Hezbollah, Iran’s strongest terrorist proxy in the region.

Denying arms to imperfect US allies like the Saudi regime while blindly assisting Iran’s anti-American proxies like Hezbollah isn’t smart even in the best of times. It borders on insanity now, when Iran seems intent on dragging America into a war almost all Americans say we don’t want.

Twitter: @bennyavni

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