The small democratic state of Israel finds itself outnumbered—and potentially outgunned—as the Iranian threat, supported by its Hezbollah terrorist allies, amasses to its north.
Recently, though, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got itself in an even bigger mess. After allowing for Qatar to transfer $15 million in financial aid and gasoline to the blockaded Gaza Strip, Hamas, the terror organization that controls the rebellious Gaza, along with their allies in the Islamic Jihad group, fired off nearly 500 rockets into southern Israel.
The response from Israel, usually a forceful practitioner of decisive counterterrorism, has been strangely muted.
When it comes to the unruly Gaza Strip, the Israeli government tends to take a low-cost “mowing the grass” approach. Instead of trying to implement regime change (because their options for replacing the ruling Hamas range from bad to worse), the Israeli military prefers to let Hamas grow in strength. Then, once Hamas gets too big for its britches, the IDF marches on Gaza and cuts Hamas down to size. Netanyahu’s response to the recent violence has confused everyone in the region.
Netanyahu is known to Westerners as a counterterrorism hawk. After he failed to respond militarily to the recent rocket attacks, his even more hawkish defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned in protest. Lieberman was vehemently opposed to Netanyahu’s initial approval for the transfer of $15 million from Qatar into Hamas coffers. At the time, Lieberman likened Netanyahu’s decision to that of protection money one pays to the mafia.
In that, Lieberman proved correct. But is that the whole story?
Netanyahu likely opted for discretion in handling Hamas because he could not afford to deter the growing and potentially nuclear Iranian threat to his north while simultaneously pacifying the restive Gaza Strip to his south. Since both Egypt and Qatar (and, therefore, the rest of the Sunni Arab states) were spearheading the attempted stabilization of the Hamas-Israeli relationship, had Netanyahu hit Gaza as hard as others may have wanted, it might have pushed the Sunni Arab powers away from Israel at a critical time.
This isn’t merely about counterterrorism. This is about Israel’s survival and the staying power of the United States in the region.
Many MAGA-minded conservatives are disinclined to accept that the United States even has a role to play in the Middle East. They should make no mistake, however: a Middle East without the serious influence of United States is a Middle East that will threaten the West as never before.
The Trump Administration has postulated that a Sunni Arab-Israeli alliance predicated on containing Iran’s growing power in the region is the only way for the United States to remain a key player in the region—without sending troops to invade another Muslim country.
What the recent Israeli experience tells us, unfortunately, is that the alliance may not be possible right now.
There are many in Washington who, behind closed doors, insist that Israel—with its advanced and potent military—will ride this out and directly launch a preemptive attack against Iran if Tehran is within a hair’s breadth of deploying a viable nuclear weapons arsenal. Yet for years, Israeli leaders have insisted that they do not have the logistical capabilities to launch such a raid deep into Iranian airspace. Netanyahu’s decision effectively to ignore Hamas’ provocations in southern Israel indicates that Israel’s military is in no shape even to protect its own borders let alone attempt a dangerous air raid deep within Iranian territory.
This comes at a time when there is great dissension in the Sunni Arab world, as Saudi Arabia is attacked by the international community for its apparent hamfisted murder of Muslim Brotherhood member (and occasional Washington Post contributor), Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Today, Russia, Iran, and Turkey are moving fast against the Sunni Arab states—and weakening them. To counter Iran, America is going to have to increase its involvement in the region exponentially.
After decades of Middle Eastern war, such a scenario is not really palatable to anyone in the United States. So perhaps Trump could form a united front with Netanyahu and the Sunni Arab leaders, fly to Moscow, and work on using Russia as a bridge to opening talks with Tehran? Moscow is Tehran’s greatest benefactor on the world stage. Yet Washington has refused to attempt such a deal with Russia out of sheer pride. Without Russian diplomatic help, though, the United States will face the dangerous choice of either courting war with Iran or abandoning the region entirely to Iran.
Time is not on Trump’s side. Unfortunately, neither Israel nor the Sunni Arab states appear capable of hanging on for too long without international support.
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