The fragmentation of Israeli society by religious fanaticism, and a cabinet of radicals preoccupied with internal upheaval not military matters, contributed toward the shocking October 7 incursion into Israel by Hamas terrorists from Gaza. Almost exactly 50 years after the Yom Kippur War, Palestinian insurgents, riding golf carts and armed with drones and rifles, invaded mighty Israel. It was a surprise attack, met with no military resistance, and has humiliated Israel’s much-vaunted intelligence forces. Hamas also fired thousands of rockets into Israel, and has killed and taken hostage hundreds of Israelis living along the border. Shockwaves from the success of this ragtag force, against the Middle East’s most powerful military state, have spread across Israel as well as globally, regionally, and economically. A day later, The Wall Street Journal reported that the catastrophe was part of a multi-pronged attack plotted by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard which, if true, constitutes an indirect attack by Tehran against Israel.
Iran’s scheme met two important strategic objectives: Weaken Israel and upend a US-brokered deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia that was about to be signed which would have improved relations and addressed the Palestinian situation. The arrangement included financial help from the Saudis for the Palestinians to help develop their economy as well as a security guarantee for the Saudis from the Americans to protect the Kingdom from Tehran. The deal is now off the table.
American spokesmen did not corroborate Iran’s involvement for hours after the attack, but Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei immediately tweeted out that the “Zionist regime will be eradicated at the hands of the Palestinian people and the Resistance forces throughout the region.” The plan took advantage of Israel’s political turmoil and was timed to obliterate the Saudi-Israeli deal, sources confirmed to The Journal. In addition, Iran united Israel’s enemies in the region in order to encircle it. Hamas joined even though it is a Sunni Muslim group, not a Shia Muslim group like Hezbollah or Iran’s Guards. Now their united front represents a greater threat to Israel going forward: Hamas in the south and Iran’s proxy Hezbollah in its north which controls most of Lebanon and missiles aimed at Israeli cities.
In early hours, the world’s biggest powers condemned the violence and called for a ceasefire. President Joe Biden warned other players against participating in this “war” then sent naval vessels and airplanes to Israel in a show of solidarity. Israel called up 300,000 reservists to stomp out Hamas in Gaza, but Iran’s indirect involvement has certainly raised the level of concern regarding this war in Washington and Brussels and Riyadh. The Saudis reacted to the Gaza attack by calling for peace but also blamed the Israeli “occupation” as the cause behind Palestinian anger. China, Russia, and the U.S. called upon both sides to stop fighting.
But how will Netanyahu and his right wing government prosecute a “war” against Gaza which appears to include Iran? Netanyahu is trigger-happy, but retaliating against Iran would be catastrophic. An Iranian official told The Journal that if Iran were attacked, it would respond with missile strikes on Israel from Lebanon, Yemen and Iran, then it would send Iranian fighters into Israel from Syria to attack cities in the north and east of Israel. These were strong words by Tehran, but Israel can out-escalate. It is a nuclear power with a fearsome air force.
Netanyahu’s retaliation should be targeted at Hamas only, but his initial tweet after the invasion was worrisome: “All of the places which Hamas is deployed, hiding and operating in, that wicked city, we will turn them into rubble. I say to the residents of Gaza: Leave now because we will operate forcefully everywhere.”
But where are the two million who live in Gaza to go? They are controlled by Hamas and not free to travel or leave under Israeli rules. This means Israel has two choices: Crack down on and contain Gaza, to end future assaults and round up culprits; or else launch a bloody ground war by invading Gaza with tanks, aircraft, and urban guerrilla forces. However, with several hundred Israeli hostages held captive, this may be difficult and foolish. The third option, diplomacy, is impossible which means more of the same. Gaza and the West Bank are failed “states” with dangerous leaders who have nothing to lose and Iran is too powerful to take on.
Unfortunately, the war is likely to spread to the West Bank and possibly Lebanon where living conditions there are as intolerable as they are in Gaza. In August, a high ranking former Northern Commander leader, Amiram Levin, sternly warned Israel about the mess in the West Bank in an interview in Haaretz. “There hasn’t been a democracy there [West Bank] in 57 years, there is total apartheid. The IDF, [Israeli Defense Forces] which is forced to exert sovereignty there, is rotting from the inside. It’s standing by, looking at the settler rioters [seizing Palestinian lands] and is beginning to be a partner to war crimes.”
Israel’s governed these regions since 1967. It captured Gaza from Egypt after that war, then seized the West Bank from Jordan. In 2005, it withdrew from Gaza and in 2007 Hamas (fundamentalist and militant) gained control. Israel maintains direct external control over Gaza, and controls its air and maritime space, as well as six of its seven land crossings. It also reserves the right to enter Gaza at will with its military and maintains a no-go buffer zone within the Gaza territory. But the West Bank has been governed by the Palestinian National Authority, a corrupt and incompetent organization.
Hamas is a terrorist organization that has festered for years due to Israeli mishandling, wrote opposition politician Shimrit Meir in The Times of Israel. “Hamas manipulated its way to this moment. It secured de facto immunity from Israel’s military force and got Qatari money every month [$30 million monthly] for basic needs to help ensure that the population didn’t revolt. Politicians and military officers alike have spent the past two years leading the public to believe that Hamas was deterred, that it was not interested in a full-on escalation and was internalizing its role as the legitimate government of Gaza.”
Politically blind-sided, Israel has one of the best intelligence operations in the world and how did it fail to see the signs of this assault?
One answer is that Israel’s current government has been preoccupied with building more settlements for Israelis in the West Bank, something Palestinians and the West have criticized for years. Egypt claims that it tipped off the regime about a potential invasion, but was ignored. This may have been because Netanyahu’s government, which includes anti-Arab and autocratically-minded ministers, was focused on bridling the Supreme Court to impose religious laws that included banning homosexuality, abortion, and other “liberal” norms. Such proposals triggered street protests by hundreds of thousands of Israelis for months.
Faced with a fractious society, the government perhaps took its eye off the ball in terms of military preparedness. Now defending the nation is its priority, but the danger is that the war will widen the divide among Israelis. Some favor a two-nation solution, some don’t. Secular Israelis want the country to remain a vibrant economic and technological powerhouse and a liberal and pluralist democracy. But religious nationalists and ultra-orthodox Jews, or Haredim, believe Israel should be a theocracy for the devout. They disdain civil courts and want to continue exemptions from serving in the military or from paying taxes. And they will outnumber the rest of the population in a generation or two.
Fears are that the Netanyahu regime may undertake actions that won’t work, cause mass casualties, or will alienate the public and allies. Israeli bombing of Gaza has begun but is reportedly indiscriminate, levelling some schools and health centers in addition to Hamas’ facilities or outposts. Resolving the Palestine “question” may be impossible. Netanyahu’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Yariv Levin opposes the creation of a Palestinian State and his Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has said “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people” and n the past called for a Palestinian town to “be erased”.
This latest war in Gaza once more rips the scab off the biggest problem in the Middle East which is what to do about the Palestinians and their disenfranchisement. Ideally, Israelis must unite, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the wealthy Arab world must step up, Iran must be contained, Hamas and Hezbollah must disappear, America and Europe must help, and a peaceful arrangement must be negotiated. Until then, the carnage will continue.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
Reprinted from [email protected] - Diane Francis on America and the World
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