Israel, the Middle East, and Us
My thoughts are with Jewish friends in Israel and the world over, as they confront and stand up to the horrors inflicted by terrorists this week.
From A Historic Cataclysm in the Middle East, this passage which gave me food for thought for my column:
“The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades,” President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said last week at The Atlantic Festival. “The amount of time that I have to spend on crisis and conflict in the Middle East … is significantly reduced.” If war breaks out generally around Israel, and questions arise about Israel’s very survival, the United States will have to start counting its ammunition. How much is left for Israel, after Ukraine has taken its share? And what about Taiwan, now third in line? These are hard questions, and Iran, Russia, and China would be thrilled, collectively and separately, to force them on the United States.
This week’s The Long View:
THE LONG VIEW
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:13 AM October 11, 2023
Recently, the film “Golda,” featuring Helen Mirren as the Israeli premier Golda Meir, opened, telling the tale of the slaughter that unfolded on the holiest of holy days, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), kicking off the 1973 Arab-Israeli War fought on Oct. 6–25, 1973. It came on the heels of the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War of June 1967, which was a complete triumph for the Israelis against Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, including the capture of Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, and East Jerusalem. That had begun with a preemptive strike by Israel.
In 1973, however, it was Israel that was taken by surprise, and the Egyptian offensive to retake the Sinai Peninsula was remarkably successful. While Israel eventually eked out a victory against Egypt and Syria, it came very close to defeat; it required an emergency infusion of arms and aircraft from the United States to make up for initial losses. The victory cost Israel 2,656 dead, 7,251 wounded, 294 captured, and left the country shaken and traumatized, its security and intelligence (the famed Mossad) authorities humiliated, and Meir’s government, disgraced. But it did lead to Egypt and Israel forging a peace agreement by 1979.
The timing of the film’s release was meant to coincide with the 50th anniversary of that traumatic event. What has overshadowed that commemoration instead is the mayhem and slaughter that began on another holiday, Sukkot, when many soldiers were on leave, and others were redeployed to the West Bank to protect Jerusalem. Israeli authorities were depending on surveillance technology, its Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, and the existence of a wall separating the Gaza Strip (from which Israel had withdrawn in 2005), as well as a network of informants in terrorist organizations.
Israel was furthermore making progress toward recognition by Saudi Arabia, long one of its most implacable foes, and the building of a working alliance against Iran which has been supporting the terrorist organizations arrayed against Israel. Domestically, however, Israel was a divided nation, with large protests taking place against changes to the authority of the courts being maneuvered by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ultraconservative allies intent on diminishing secular controls.
Last Saturday, everything changed. Hamas launched multiple attacks that have already claimed at least 900 lives, over 2,400 wounded, and over 150 kidnapped and taken hostage, the vast majority of civilians of all ages and nationalities.
In the Free Press, an FAQ (describing events as “the most deadly killing of Jews since the Holocaust”) by Alana Newhouse and Jeremy Stern mentions the disquieting possibility that, “According to sources in Israel and America who deal with national security and technology, one possible scenario involved a cyberattack that took down Israel’s border fence, with its layers of sensors, early in the morning on Saturday, Oct. 7,” which was compounded by gradually relaxing restrictions on trade, commerce, and even issuing work permits to encourage Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip, to maintain the peace.
What’s particularly relevant to us is how Russia and China had to be considered as potentially having assisted such an attack, considered beyond the capabilities of Iran, which the attackers have given credit for helping them plan the ambitious invasion of Israel’s border towns. The only thing keeping from the two countries being assumed to have helped is that both nations are themselves harsh when it comes to Muslim fundamentalists. But what is beyond doubt is Russia can only benefit from American resources now having to be divided between Israel and Ukraine-with the American security umbrella over Taiwan also thinly stretched, naturally.
As with Golda Meir, so with Netanyahu. There will be a political reckoning. Journalist Seth Abramson put forward a quote from The Times of Israel, about Egyptian intelligence warning the Israeli prime minister an attack was coming: the “Egypt’s Intelligence Minister General Abbas Kamel personally called Netanyahu only 10 days before the massive attack that Gazans were likely to do ‘something unusual, a terrible operation’.” As Abramson (a fierce critic of Netanyahu) put it, “So now we have (1) multiple warnings to Netanyahu, which (2) identified the origin of the attack, and (3) said it was coming ‘very soon.’ These multiple, reasonably specific warnings also (4) discussed the scope of the attack, saying that it would be ‘unusual,’ ‘big,’ and ‘terrible’-meaning, quite clearly, that it would (a) involve tactics Israeli intel had not encountered before, (b) involve a war theater much larger than earlier Hamas incursions, and © target civilians rather than exclusively military personnel.”
Israel is still reeling from the horror and the scale of the attacks. In The Guardian, Orly Noy mentions: “Now we see an absence of sufficient supplies and food for the hastily drafted reserve forces sent to the frontlines against Hamas, leaving the job of organising the items they need to civilians in each city and town.”
Additional Readings and Viewings:
Start with Which Israel Will Emerge After the Hamas Attack? :
This attack by Hamas on Israel was almost certainly directed by Iran. For years, Iran has been arming, equipping, financing, and supporting Hamas, as well as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Both terror organizations are Iran’s proxies. The Iranian regime has recently grown over self-confidant. Its alliance with Russia, its China-mediated rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, the gradual withdrawal of U.S. from the Middle East, it total misinterpretation of the pro-democracy mass demonstrations in Israel, combined to give the Ayatollahs a feeling of strength. They became more daring, all over the region.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is accountable and to be blamed for the unfolding disaster-and not only because the intelligence failure and the swift success of Hamas happened on his shift.
Throughout all his 13 years in power Netanyahu enabled and encouraged the build-up of Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. The idea behind it was to weaken the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah by strengthening its rival the Hamas in Gaza. Qatar was allowed to funnel many millions of dollars to the Hamas government, while more and more financial punitive measures were taken against Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority. No serious military measures were taken to destroy Hamas militarily. Since August 2014 not a single Hamas senior commander has been killed by Israel. Since last Saturday we Israelis are paying the price for the policy of the Netanyahu-led governments that have done everything to avoid seeking a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
As well as Philip Bowring’s Castles Crumble in the Middle East:
The recent focus of the US had been on building Israel’s diplomatic bridges and encouraging Arab states to stop fretting about the Palestinians and focus on their own self-interests. It had considerable success in this though somewhat tempered by China’s own efforts to develop friends in the region. Other Arabs have indeed mostly only paid lip service to the Palestinian cause. But Hamas’ bold and bloody venture will now make that more difficult and bring the issue of Palestinians back on the stage. Attempts will be made by Israelis and the US to blame all this on Iranian support for Hamas. But that misses the point of the depth of Palestinian grievance which needs no encouragement from distant Shia mullahs whose main non-state ally in the region is Hezbollah in Lebanon. Its interests are not the same as those of Hamas, but it has an equally strong record of facing up to Israel.
China’s failure to criticize Hamas has shocked many in the west but elsewhere, especially in other former parts of European empires, there may be a better understanding of the history of the conflict. After many attempts since 1948 at a two-state solution, Jewish settlement has never stopped expanding nor its ability, at least till this week, to kill 10 Palestinians for one of its own.
Meanwhile, a renewed US focus on the Middle East can only draw attention and resources away from its Indo-Pacific interests and also Ukraine at a time when right-wing Republicans are increasingly reluctant to support its defense against Russia.
As for Israel, after its retribution has been delivered — again — to Gaza the question is whether it can see or be made to see the longer-term impossibility of 7.2 million retaining control of 6.8 million mostly rights-less Palestinians.
For the Israeli view, see these (extremely uncompromising) articles in the Free Press: start with Israel at War, which in turn, introduces three pieces written shortly after the attacks took place: Today Is Israel’s 9/11, I Was at a Music Festival When the Terror Began, From Joy to Terror: A Postcard from Jerusalem. Then go on to This Is What ‘Decolonization’ Looks Like. And finally, Hamas’s War on Israel: Everything You Need to Know.
There is this, which makes for fierce reading: Seth Abramson’s As Israel Reels From Mass Deaths and a Seeming Intel Failure, Evidence Mounts of Negligence By Netanyahu-Or Maybe Something More Sinister and its related accompaniments, Benjamin Netanyahu Blamed by Top Israel Newspaper in Scathing Attack and Egypt intelligence official says Israel ignored repeated warnings of ‘something big’.
On Russia, China and Israel, see, first of all, this overview, Xi Jinping’s wants a ‘multipolar world’, as China accelerates its shift away from the west. Then, China hedges on Israel-Hamas as U.S. urges stronger stance. Then some background: How China Learned to Harness Israel’s Media and Booming Tech Scene (2021), China-Israel Relations, Israel and China: The Bloom Is Off the Rose, No, Israel Isn’t Falling Into China’s Orbit(2022), China-Africa relations, How Steady Are China-Israel Relations? (2023). See also, Hamas’ gift to Vladimir Putin, and related, Iran’s Role in Israel Conflict Is Like a Russian Nesting Doll.
Watch Six days that changed the Middle East: The ’67 Arab-Israeli War and The War in October: Part I, Part II, Part III.