American Christians have long cherished Israel as a key friend and partner in the Middle East.
This is due in no small part to Israel’s commitment to liberal democracy, protecting human rights and dignity, and religious tolerance towards Christians and members of other faiths. This friendship is shown by the substantial number of American Christians who support Israel across various denominations.
Unfortunately, Iran’s growing ideological and military footprint throughout the Middle East poses a grave danger to both Israel and the regional Christian community. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remains one of the most notorious persecutors of Christians in the world and has repeatedly called for the total annihilation of Israel. To support them, Christians in the United States must continue to advocate that the Trump administration hold Iran accountable for human rights abuses and respond forcefully to Iranian militarism.
Khamenei’s radical ideology allows no quarter for Christians, and thus Iran’s hegemonic ambitions endanger Christian communities across the Middle East. The regime raids churches and imprisons Christians guilty of no crime but their faith. Worse, his policy of spreading Islamist terrorism puts Christian families across the Middle East at risk of violence. And though the theocratic regime has tried to mask its anti-Christian animus, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called attention to their public relations ploy in a recent video, stating, “Welcome to Iran. Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ while jailing Christians in your own country is the height of hypocrisy.”
This pronouncement was all the more powerful because Iran also poses a significant danger to Israel, whose small size means that it will never be fully secure from the security threats it faces. As Iran prosecutes the war in Syria to cement its land bridge to Lebanon, Prime Minister Netanyahu spelled out his red lines: any long-term Iranian presence in Syria will be met with force. This demand was on full display in recent months when he issued a stark warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: prepare for a military clash if you let Iran build bases near our border. The statement came just days after Israel shot down a Syrian surveillance drone that had infiltrated its airspace.
The increasingly brazen threats faced by Israel and Middle East Christians signify the failure of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. President Obama’s reliance on “leading from behind” throughout his eight-year tenure, and his willingness to placate an Iranian regime whose adherents chanted “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”, allowed Iran and its radical proxy groups to gain significant footholds and leverage in countries across the Middle East.
Nothing signifies the Obama administration’s naïve flaws more than the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Beyond merely setting loose terms for the agreement, the Obama administration lifted a slew of sanctions and unfroze Iranian cash, allowing over $100 billion to flow back to the regime. If even a tiny fraction of this excess cash was used to fund proxy terrorist groups, it would serve as a violent accelerator for conflicts around the Middle East.
Indeed, money has almost certainly flowed generously to the radical terrorist group Hezbollah, one of Israel’s biggest foes. Hezbollah is responsible for killing dozens of Americans in the early 1980s and now has more than 150,000 rockets pointed directly at Israel. The group has sent thousands of its soldiers to prop up the Assad regime at Iran’s behest, and in return Iran gives it roughly $700-800 million a year, more than doubling Iran’s annual support from just a decade ago.
Thankfully, the current administration has instituted a 180-degree course correction from the Obama administration’s foreign policy agenda. President Trump took decisive action by decertifying the Iran Deal and recently decided he would no longer waive sanctions against Iran unless steps are taken to fix the deal. Trump has also promised more aggressive action in combating Iran’s role in spreading radical Islamist terrorism. Furthermore, the president declared Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel, and Vice President Pence double-downed on the same message in a speech to the Israeli Knesset (its legislature).
While the Trump administration has followed words with action, more can be done. U.S. Christians must pressure our elected representatives to stand with Israel and to take more aggressive action against the Iranian regime. These reforms may include increasing military and humanitarian aid to Israel, increasing sanctions on the Iranian regime and its supporters, and increasing kinetic military action against Islamist terror groups. This will help deter Iranian adventurism, making the Middle East safer for Israel and Christian communities living there.
Surrounded by strategic threats and faced with an increasingly aggressive Iran, the security situation for both Israel and Christian communities in the Middle East has changed in an unpredictable and dangerous way. “When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you’ve always stood with us,” Netanyahu stated in a recent speech. U.S. Christians must continue to take an active role in advocating for policies that protect and preserve Middle East Christian communities and Israel’s promise in this new era.
Alex Entz is a Fellow with The Public Interest Fellowship in Washington, DC. He writes about global sanctions policy and the uses of economic power.
Alexander W. Titus is a Fellow with The Public Interest Fellowship in Washington, DC. Previously, he served as a fundraising professional at the Freedom Partners organization, helping to bridge the gap between the conservative grassroots and GOP donor class. Alexander frequently writes on politics, policy, and the Middle East. Twitter: @atitus7
Photo Credit: Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian air force personnel. Official website of Ali Khamenei, via Wikimedia Commons.