Imagine if FDR had offered a multi-million-dollar aid package to Germany before the Nazi surrender on May 7, 1945. Or if Truman had air-dropped food, medicine, and cash on Japanese cities before Emperor Hirohito announced his country's surrender on August 15, 1945. Such scenarios would have been impossible then, but today, pundits and politicians are advocating sending aid to Iran, a sworn enemy of the U.S., to combat the coronavirus. They are also urging the release of aid for the Palestinians, whose leaders range from hostile (Fatah) to terrorist (Hamas).
Eight U.S. senators are proposing a massive aid package for Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled (and PLO-dominated) Palestinian Authority (the so-called West Bank), and many pundits are urging the Trump administration to end sanctions against Iran. Both of these proposals would, in effect, aid and empower our enemies, and therefore undermine rather than serve U.S. interests at a critical moment.
Humanitarian aid to Hamas and lifting Iran sanctions will empower American enemies.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Chris Van Hollen, Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders, Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley, Tom Carper, and Sherrod Brown are demanding that the U.S. provide $75 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza. In a March 26 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the senators, all Democrats, gave him until April 3 to specify how the State Department will ensure that the money "mandated by the FY 2020 Appropriations Act" will be used to "provide the Palestinian people with access to adequate medicine, medical equipment, personnel, and other resources to combat the threat of a major coronavirus health crisis" in the West Bank and Gaza.
But providing aid to the Palestinians means handing $75 million to the PA and Hamas. What do the senators think Palestinian leaders will do with that money? Judging from a long historical record, they are likely to use it to continue their fight against Israel — launching rockets and digging tunnels to smuggle weaponry and murderers into Israel, paying stipends to the families of terrorists caught or killed in the act — and to line their own pockets.
Israel's good-will efforts to help Palestinians fight COVID-19 have not been reciprocated.
Israel has already provided aid to the Palestinians to combat the coronavirus. It delivered 20 tons of disinfectant to the West Bank, as well as test kits and training for Palestinian health-care workers. It sent 200 test kits to Gaza and offered more direct aid to Hamas on the condition that Hamas return the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war. Instead, Hamas launched rockets into Israel. Israel's good-will efforts have not been reciprocated. There is little reason to think that U.S. humanitarian aid would be used for the stated purpose.
While Israeli missile companies like Inovytec convert their production lines to make ventilators, Hamas's money is used to make more missiles. As Michael Milstein, head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at the Moshe Dayan Center in Tel Aviv, put it, "Hamas is doing almost nothing for the people of Gaza. . . . All the money needed today to confront the coronavirus is going towards rockets."
Iran has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Some of our allies (especially Germany, France, and the U.K.) are requesting that the U.S. dial back its "maximum pressure" campaign on the Iranian regime by easing economic sanctions. Many pundits in the U.S. are demanding the same.
Such demands ignore the fact that Iran (following China's lead) is engaged in a disinformation campaign that seeks to convince the world that the coronavirus originated in the U.S. as a biological weapon. An Iranian "researcher," Amir Mousavi, appeared on RT, the Russian government–run TV network, wearing a face mask, accusing the U.S. of having "waged biological wars before." He told his Russian interviewer that "scientists in Iranian labs — with the help of Russia, China, and Cuba — are laboring to study the possibility" that the U.S. created the coronavirus. He added that Chinese leader Xi Jinping went beyond considering it a "possibility" and "officially accused the United States." Similarly, he said, "research centers in Russia — and even some American institutions — have begun to raise doubts on whether this virus is natural or made in a lab."
The U.S. already offered medical aid to Iran, and that offer was rebuffed.
The New York Times has been particularly enthusiastic about aiding Iran in order to create "good will" toward the U.S. On March 24, the Times ran an opinion piece advocating aid to Iran in the form of "financial and medical resources—from food and medicine to cash transfers—to [help it] carry out an effective nationwide quarantine and other measures to curb the outbreak." The following day, a Times editorial claimed that "demonstrating compassion in times of crisis is good foreign policy, and in this case may actually help achieve the goals the Trump administration is pursuing."
But the U.S. already did offer medical aid to Iran, and that offer was rebuffed. And we have recent indications of how the mullahs use cash transfers. Of the massive windfall Iran received from President Obama's ill-conceived JCPOA, much went to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, while billions went straight into Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's private bank account, according to former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
We cannot trust the Iranian regime to use millions of dollars in humanitarian aid from the West on the public-health crisis at hand. We know that the Iranian regime seeks to continue to build its nuclear program; that it has launched missiles at American forces in the region; and that it oppresses the Iranian people, suppressing all dissent within the country, in order to stay in power. Judging from history and recent events, we can also assume that Iran's leaders would siphon off some of the money to pad their personal fortunes.
Even as the U.S. maintains sanctions on the Iranian regime, our European allies are finding ways to fund it. The Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), a system devised by European nations to sidestep sanctions and continue trade with Iran, is already up and running.
Common sense tells us that aid to a foe should come only after victory over that foe.
The U.S. is coping with nationwide shortages of ventilators, personal protective equipment, and coronavirus tests. Any supplies we can spare should be sent to allies, not to enemies. And as the effects of an economic shutdown grow ever more grave, on top of our $22 trillion debt, we should not be sending cash to regimes that have shown no regard for the suffering of their own people.
Common sense tells us that aid to a foe should come only after victory over that foe. There should be no Marshall Plan for Iran as long as the present regime continues on its belligerent track. Similarly, we should not be aiding Palestinian leaders who, to varying degrees, act against U.S. interests. The generosity of the American people requires that our enemies cease to behave as such. This is our quid pro quo.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsberg-Ingerman fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.