Weeks after President Ronald Reagan's first election victory, the U.S. was engulfed in problems and the new President was confronting challenges unparalleled in nearly a half-century. At that time, the prominent conservative Heritage Foundation produced a detailed road map designed to help the fledgling administration steer the nation into a sound future, guided by conservative principles, called Mandate for Leadership. By the end of President Reagan's first year in office, nearly two-thirds of Mandate's more than 2,000 specific recommendations had been or were being transformed into policy.
Since then, Heritage has produced the Mandate series for incoming administrations, marshaling the talents of scores of experts.
Heritage recently released a report authored by James Phillips, Heritage's Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs, and a latest volume of Mandate, outlining specific policy recommendations for the Trump Administration. Four topics treated are Iran, the defeat of Islamist terrorist groups, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and President Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Regarding Iran, the report finds Iran to be "the chief long-term regional threat to the U.S. and Israel. While the Obama Administration turned a blind eye to many of Iran’s malign activities to avoid jeopardizing its flawed nuclear agreement with Tehran, the Trump Administration is committed to confronting and pushing back against Iran."
Findings regarding Iran state that "Cooperation on missile defense should be an especially important agenda item. Iran’s medium-range missiles already can reach Israel with a 1,000-pound payload. On February 4, Mojtaba Zonour, a member of Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, helpfully reminded the world that 'only seven minutes are needed for an Iranian missile to hit Tel Aviv' and that 36 U.S. military bases in the Middle East are within range of Iranian missiles. Israel is now deploying the Arrow-3 interceptor, developed jointly with the United States, and the two leaders should agree to support cooperation in further enhancing missile defenses."
Heritage recommends: "President Trump should discuss plans to hold Iran accountable for its hostile regional policies and roll back its influence, outlining the Administration’s strategy for ratcheting up sanctions on Iran and particularly on the IRGC, which controls Iran’s ballistic missile program and efforts to export terrorism. President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu should also coordinate on interdicting the flow of Iranian arms to Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups."
On the Islamic State (ISIS) and the war in Syria, Heritage concludes, "Both the U.S. and Israel seek the rapid destruction of ISIS in Syria, but Israel is concerned that President Trump’s intention to cooperate with Russia in Syria could strengthen the influence of Iran and Hezbollah there." Explaining Israel's needs, Heritage councils the Trump Administration that "Netanyahu will want to gain an understanding of U.S. plans for Syria, efforts to split Russia from Iran, and the implications for Israeli security. At a minimum, Jerusalem wants to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from establishing a military presence near the Israeli–Syrian border."
Recommendations: "Israel has legitimate concerns about the increasing role that Iran and Hezbollah are playing in Syria. Trump needs to ensure that U.S. policies in regard to Syria will not inadvertently harm Israel’s security.
"Islamist terrorist groups pose a significant threat to the U.S. and Israel. Both countries can benefit from better coordination. Trump and Netanyahu should coordinate policies on fighting ISIS in Syria and explore ways to reduce the ISIS threat to Jordan and Egypt. Jordan needs intelligence and counterterrorism help in uncovering terrorist plots and economic support to lighten the burden of more than 600,000 Syrian refugees. Egypt has sustained heavy losses fighting ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula, and the group claimed responsibility on February 9 for a cross-border rocket attack on the Israeli city of Eilat. Cairo needs quiet help in defeating the ISIS insurgency, which has received extensive aid from Hamas and other Islamist extremist groups in Gaza."
The Israel-Palestinian conflict is summed up thus: "In contrast to the Obama Administration—which allowed the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2234 condemning Israel and added insult to injury with a blistering anti-Israel speech from Secretary of State John Kerry—the Trump Administration will be much more supportive of Israel at the U.N. and elsewhere. Trump should publicly underscore that the U.S. will veto any one-sided U.N. Security Council resolutions and assert that only direct bilateral negotiations, not the U.N., can produce a peace agreement.
"President Trump should also stress that Palestinian terrorist attacks, not Israeli settlements, are the chief obstacles to peace. Although the Administration has not taken an official position on settlements, it did release a statement saying that new settlements “may not be helpful” in achieving a peace agreement. A senior Administration official later told The Jerusalem Post that new settlements could undermine Trump’s plans to engineer a final status agreement.
"Trump has described an Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement as 'the ultimate deal,' but the situation is not ripe for such a deal. The Palestinian Authority is unwilling to make the necessary concessions and too weak to enforce any agreement in the face of Hamas’s implacable opposition to Israel."
Recommendations include: "The Administration should focus on managing rather than resolving the conflict, which is impossible for the immediate future. Trump should consult with Netanyahu about how to restore calm, undermine Hamas and other Islamist extremist groups, and create a more stable environment for future step-by-step negotiations." However, Phillips adds, "Refraining from establishing new settlements would be helpful in this context."
Regarding the embassy move, Heritage says, "President Trump’s commitment to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would correct a historic anomaly: The United States has never recognized any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. However, moving the embassy could ignite protests, riots, and anti-American backlashes among Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims."
Therefore, Heritage recommends to "Ensure that certain standards are met before moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. To mitigate the risks of the move, Trump should consult with Netanyahu on the timing; pick a site in West Jerusalem, which has been controlled by Israel since 1948; and explain that the move does not change other aspects of U.S. policy. The U.S. should make it clear that the borders and final status of Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations; that the embassy move would not preclude a Palestinian state; that the U.S. consulate-general in Jerusalem would continue to function as the U.S. representative to the Palestinian Authority; and that no changes would be made in the status of Muslim holy sites, which would continue to be administered by Jordan."
In conclusion, the Heritage report says that "Israel is America’s foremost ally in the Middle East. Both countries are democracies, value free-market economies, and uphold human rights at a time when many other countries in the Middle East reject those values." It says recent developments represent "a promising opportunity to reassert American leadership in the Middle East and strengthen U.S.–Israel strategic cooperation on foreign policy, defense, and counterterrorism issues."