In the famous scene from the Godfather movie, Michael Corleone explains to his “civilian” girlfriend Kate how his father, the Godfather, overcame the unshakable determination of a Hollywood movie mogul to abstain from offering a leading role to one the Godfather’s favorites. It turns out that this feat was accomplished by making the mogul a “deal he couldn’t refuse”. And what was the essence of the deal? It was simply making a highly credible threat against the mogul’s personal survival.
This bears further elaboration because the threat was not “proportional”. It was not the mogul’s financial interests that were threatened. The threat did not involve commanding the Mob-connected Hollywood labor unions to work slowly on the mogul’s movies or call in sick en masse. No, to make an offer that could not be refused, the Godfather had to make a credible and unambiguous threat against the mogul’s very life. He did so by killing his prize race horse and placing the bleeding horse’s head under the covers in bed with the mogul while he was sleeping.
Aside from Hollywood’s seemingly unshakable belief that everyone puts themselves to sleep by either drinking or drugging themselves into oblivion so that bleeding horse heads can be placed in people’s beds without them ever noticing, this teaches us another lesson about offers that cannot be refused. They are almost as risky to the guy on the giving side of the offer as the guy on the receiving end. Surely, destroying the cherished personal property of a very rich and well-connected person in Hollywood as well as threatening his life was a risky move for Don Corleone. After all, as we know from the movie itself, he was hardly without competitors in the Mob business. And yet, because he felt honor-bound to his godson Johnny Fontaine, he went all in, he did what had to be done to get Johnny his part.
It is no secret that the building trades in New York City are controlled by organized crime and thus it is inevitable that president Trump has developed a close working relationship with these people over many decades. He knows how they work; he knows how to make offers that cannot be refused and even more importantly, he knows WHEN to make them and the risks associated with making them. He knows that these offers are only made as a last resort and in order to succeed they have to involve a threat that is 100% credible and one that threatens the literal personal survival of the key decision makers.
As Trump’s Middle East policy is unfolding, it appears that his “deal of the century”, his bid for immortality, history books, and the Nobel Peace prize, his moonshot is taking on all the characteristics of an offer that cannot be refused.
It started with Trump adopting the most pro-Israeli policy imaginable. A policy so pro-Israeli that it is more Zionist than many of the Jews currently residing in Israel and most of the Jews who live in America. He appointed an A-team of the most Zionist American Jews possible to all the key positions with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Ambassador to Israel Friedman, Special Envoy Greenblatt, and of course his son in law, the architect of he deal, Kushner. Trump then proceeded to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American Embassy there, a move soon followed by a similar recognition for the Golan Heights. The public statements made by Trump’s envoys were unequivocal and vocal in placing the blame for the current impasse squarely on the Palestinian shoulders, be they those of the Fatah leaders in Judea and Samaria or Hamas leaders in Gaza.
But this was just the smaller part of Trump’s strategy. At the core of it lies the diabolically clever plan of placing the Sunni Palestinians at the very heart, the very center of the ongoing Sunna-Shia war and making sure that Sunna wins that war, but only at the price of sacrificing Palestinian interests, or at least Palestinian interests as the Palestinian leadership currently perceives them. To make this a reality, Trump placed America’s support squarely behind the standard bearer of the Sunni coalition – Saudi Arabia. Trump was unflinching in his support for the Saudis in eliminating any traces of Shia influence from the Arabian Peninsula, be they the Yemenite Shia Huthi rebels, or the Shia-sympathizing Qataris. Trump’s veto of the law passed by Congress last week prohibiting American aid to Saudi Arabia in its war against the Huthis is part of this strategy and it should have been much more widely reported.
Trump’s unflinching and extraordinary support for the Saudis demanded and received their tacit and sometimes open, via proxies such as Oman, normalization and acceptance of Israel and the Jews not only as a fait accompli, a blemish that is more trouble than it’s worth removing, but as a legitimate presence in the Middle East, a rightful part of the mosaic of cultures, nations, and religions in the region.
The biggest prize that Trump has promised the Saudis and the last piece in the ever tightening wall that he is building around the Palestinians is yet to happen and that is the downfall of the Iranian governing junta. It has been reported, though once again not nearly as much as it should have been, that Trump’s goal for Iran is not containment, but victory, unambiguous, clear victory via the downfall of the mullah regime and the return of the power in the country to its people. Trump understands that all totalitarian regimes, all regimes that, like the Iranian one, are hated by their own people survive on one thing and one thing only: a well-fed and thus loyal military. Trump fully intends to make it impossible for the Mullahs to feed their military.
Today it was announced that Trump withdrew the dispensation he had given to five countries, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, China, and Taiwan to legally circumvent the sanctions on Iran and buy crude oil from it. Compliance will reduce Iran’s oil exports to virtually zero, depriving the country and its ruling junta from any source of foreign currency or indeed external revenue. Trump has significant leverage against all of these countries; South Korea and Japan depend on Trump for keeping North Korea in check, Taiwan needs the US as the guarantor of its tenuous independence from China, Turkey can be made to see the light by letting it keep its Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles and still buy US-made F-35 fighter jets, and China can get somewhat better terms in its trade deal with the US. By creating a world-wide oil glut through increased production in the US and in Saudi Arabia, with Russia hardly being able to afford any cuts in its own production, Trump had guaranteed that Iranian oil is quickly and easily replaced, making the purchase of this odious product simply unnecessary.
No blood has yet been shed, but offers that cannot be refused require a blood sacrifice. Iran has just announced that if it cannot export oil, it will close the Hormuz Straits to all shipping, a clear violation of international law and an act of war. It is impossible to imagine America taking no action to keep this crucial waterway open to navigation, even if it leads to direct military confrontation between the US and Iran. Needless to any such confrontation will lead to Hezbollah and likely Hamas joining the fray and firing rockets at Israel. The scope of this engagement, like all armed conflicts, is difficult to predict, but the outcome cannot be in doubt; the US and Israel will gain a clear victory on the battlefield. Trump’s strategy calls for the military humiliation suffered by Iran and its proxies, coupled with its inability to pay its military to bring about the long-desired regime change and finally a respite to the long-suffering Iranian people.
If that is indeed the outcome, Palestinians will finally face the inevitability of taking Trump up on his offer, an offer that includes autonomy, but not sovereignty, coupled with significant investment by the Gulf states. The Palestinian leadership will be advised against it by the Europeans, but they full-well know that the Europeans are all talk and no action, that no succor will come their way from Brussels. If they refuse, Trump will simply wash his hands from them and let nature take its course, which in this case would mean Israeli annexation of all areas in Judea and Samaria where it has full control, the so called “C” areas, leaving the Palestinians exactly where they are now, but without the Saudi and Qatari dough.
This lack of funds will mean that Hamas and Fatah alike will not be able to pay their militaries and that will put the survival of their leadership at very real personal risk. And this is it, folks, the horse’s head is about to be placed between the satin sheets, the rest will depend on the survival instincts of a handful of corrupt old Arabs. Will they take the deal? Will anyone really care? Maybe and no are the answers. Of course, Trump wants his Nobel Peace Prize, but the Palestinian Arabs have already written themselves into the trash heap of history. The world will move on without them and it will be a better place for it.
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