With Vice President Mike Pence’s recent tour of the Middle East, all eyes have returned to the region. Tensions were especially high when the Vice President addressed Israel’s Knesset and protests soon broke out within the chamber, led by the Arab members of the assembly.

I was in Israel just a few weeks ago. While there, a friend told me that there are more changes happening in the Middle East today than at any time since the 7th century. He was referring, of course, to the split in Islam that divided that religion into the Sunnis and the Shiites. Israel’s world is changing, and that will bring both peril and promise.

Fortunately, our Israeli allies have a strong hand of cards at the moment: a rock-solid alliance with the U.S.; an administration in Washington that tactically supports them; a vibrant and innovative economy; a battle-tested military; newly available offshore natural gas reserves; and, reportedly, a significant nuclear strategic deterrent. In many ways, Israel is the “superpower” in the Middle East.

On the other hand, it’s facing another rising regional superpower: The Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran has imperial ambitions, which began with the Persian Empire centuries ago; a large, young and growing population; strong and experienced military cadres; and huge oil reserves.

In addition to this rising Iran, there is a newly aggressive and activist Saudi Arabia; a shattered Syria and Yemen; the Islamic State seeking to reinvent itself; and Russian and Turkish troops within a few hundred miles of Israel. What can the U.S. do to help our strongest partner in the region? I laid out a few suggestions below, but for more details you can read my op-ed in Bloomberg View.

  1. Implement a joint strategy for dealing with Iran.
  2. Encourage Israeli engagement with moderate Sunni states, such as Egypt and Jordan, but also Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
  3. Strengthen bilateral military cooperation.
  4. Increase Israeli engagement with NATO.

Above all, the U.S. should continue to stand strong beside Israel. The two nations will always disagree on a variety of international and political issues, but the Israelis will continue to be one of the closest allies for the U.S. in the most turbulent and war-torn region of the world. I echoed these sentiments on MSNBC, which you can watch here.

Just north of Israel, another showdown is brewing in Syria between its Kurdish population — which has fought alongside U.S.-sponsored rebels against the Syrian government — and Turkish military forces.  The offensive, called “Olive Branch” by the Turks, reflects justifiable Turkish concerns about border security.  Their view is that the Kurdish militia is aligned with the Kurdish terrorist group PKK. At the moment, Washington is trying to sail a narrow passage between supporting its Kurdish combat partners and not blowing up the relationship with Turkey.  But the room for maneuver is closing and a choice is looming.  What should the U.S. do?

First, we need to keep our eye on job one: defeating the Islamic State, while also doing what we can to diminish Assad’s control over Syria. We will continue to need Kurdish ground troops east of the Euphrates River, and we also need stability in northern Iraq, a Kurdish federal enclave.  This means quietly persuading our Turkish allies to be precise, keep their “Olive Branch” operation short and avoid civilian casualties.

As I told Hugh Hewitt this weekend, the White House should also publicly recognize Turkey’s security concerns and immediately get a qualified envoy with strong experience to Ankara. And the Pentagon must be working its channels with the Turkish military on a daily basis to de-conflict operations and intentions.

The most important strategic U.S. goal in the region (beyond supporting Israel) is to maintain our relationship with Turkey. The U.S. and other NATO allies are rightly concerned over serious allegations of human rights violations in Turkey and government pressure on the judiciary, the media and senior military figures. That said, we simply cannot afford to “lose” Turkey; they have a strong and diversified economy, a young and growing population, and have stood alongside the U.S. for much of the post-World War II era. Their importance both regionally and globally will continue to grow in the 21st century.

We owe our Kurdish partners a serious effort to mitigate the impact of the Turkish operation, and should do everything we can over time to help ease tensions between Turks and Kurds. But the overall U.S. strategic interest lies in keeping Turkey aligned with NATO and the trans-Atlantic community.  It would be a major geopolitical mistake to see Turkey drift out of that orbit and end up aligned with Russia and Iran. You can read more about this in my newest column for Bloomberg View.

With all the focus on the Eastern Mediterranean, many were shocked to hear of the hotel bombing in Kabul this past week, which killed and injured several American and Afghani citizens. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

As America continues its longest war in modern history, it’s wise to remember that we are fighting an insurgency, not a nation state. It often takes about a decade, or even two, to resolve conflicts like these. I spoke with NBC Nightly News about the attack earlier this week:

The war in Afghanistan is a long-term operation and the Afghani people and their allies have come a long way, but unfortunately, I believe it will get worse before it gets better.

As always, thank you for reading.

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