By James Durso
The Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 upended the Middle East and will shape the NATO-Russia war in Ukraine as the U.S. diverts weapons and political support to the defense of the Jewish state.
So, who is Hamas that shamed the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and security services that used to be regarded as world-class, and showed that Israel’s super-smart security fence was more like something Wile E. Coyote got from the Acme Security Fence Company.
Hamas is a Cold War creation and was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (and funded by Israel) in 1987, at the start of the First Intifada, to oppose the secular, nationalist Fatah organization, run by Yasser Arafat. The group was an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was given a boost in 1953 when President Dwight Eisenhower met a delegation of Muslim leaders that included Said Ramadan, the European representative of the Muslim Brotherhood and an alleged CIA asset.
After its 1987 founding, Hamas opposed the peace efforts between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and opposed the Oslo Accords when rival Fatah renounced violence and recognized the existence of Israel as part of a two-state solution.
The failure of the 2000 Camp David Summit kept the violence going in the region, but U.S. officials did not make West Asia a priority until after the 9-11 attacks by Al-Qaeda.
After 9-11, President George W. Bush, as part of his “Freedom Agenda,” supported the “Road map for peace,” a plan proposed by the Quartet on the Middle East (the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations). Unfortunately, the plan deadlocked and was overshadowed by the Second Intifada. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, frustrated, evacuated the Gaza Strip and rocket attacks, which started in 1994 when the IDF left most of the Strip, jumped.
Bush insisted the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections go ahead and, when Hamas won, demanded it change its policies in exchange for recognition. Hamas took control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority and Fatah in 2007, and the U.S. planned a coup to remove it, but failed. Instead of America’s Founding Fathers, Bush channeled Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “Democracy is like a tram. You ride it until you arrive at your destination, then you step off.”
Somewhere at Hamas HQ there is shrine to Ariel Sharon.
President Barack Obama made a nuclear deal with Iran his top foreign policy priority and achieved it with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was opposed by Israel and America’s other friends in the Middle East. The JCPOA legitimized Iran’s nuclear program and offered financial relief, but failed to address Iran’s ballistic missile development program. (UN restrictions on Iran’s missile activities and drone exports expire on 18 October 2023, just in time for Iran to step up support of Russian forces in Ukraine and Hezbollah.) As Iran is Hamas’s key supporter, this strengthened Hamas as it could count on more money in the future.
Considering recent events, Obama’s Middle East policy has been called an “abject failure,” but that’s assuming everyone has the same definition of “success.”
President Donald Trump entered office vowing to get rid of the JCPOA, which he called the “worst deal ever negotiated.” He ended America’s participation in the JCPOA, then embarked on the Abraham Accords to normalize Israel’s relations with its Arab and Muslim neighbors. He succeeded and Israel normalized relations with Bahrain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan.
Trump also moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and cut $25 million in U.S. support for Palestinian hospitals, and $200 million from the UN Relief and Works Agency. Netanyahu pocked his winnings, and Trump failed to press Israel to make peace with the Palestinian Authority.
President Joe Biden failed to pick up the ball that Trump dropped and, instead, started a fight with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) over the killing of the activist and Qatar operative, Jamal Khashoggi. MbS resisted and Biden later backed off when he needed Saudi support over oil prices – which he did not get. Biden also failed to blunt the Kingdom’s growing relationship with China.
But the Biden administration turned a blind eye to Iran’s oil trade with China and provided funding to Hamas-linked groups – over $200 million in 2022 – which should have alarmed Israel, except that Israel was doing the same thing.
In response to the Hamas attack, Israel launched Operation Iron Swords though a more accurate name is Operation Keep BiBi Out of Jail. The satirical journal The Onion got it right: “Netanyahu: ‘I Don’t Know About You, But The Timing Of This Tragic Attack On Israelis Could Not Have Come At A Better Time For Me’ “
Netanyahu is on trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes so, to keep his freedom, in 2022 Netanyahu formed an alliance populated with ultra-nationalists and extremists whose eliminationist rhetoric is identical to that of Hamas. Netanyahu then tabled a judicial reform plan that had some good points but was immediately opposed by “secular Israel” and the kulturkampf lurking beneath the surface was now out in the open.
Among the opposition to Netanyahu were military leaders and members of the security services who were busy trying to displace the country’s chief executive when they should have been watching the country’s borders. (Sounds familiar!) The military pulled troops away from Gaza and sent them to the West Bank to guard Netanyahu’s settler allies, and threats by military reservists to not report for duty probably gave Hamas the impression that the country was weakening.
But luckily for Israel, while the country’s leading lights were seized by Netanyahu Derangement Syndrome and indulged their urge to preserve Our DemocracyTM, someone was keeping an eye on things. Reportedly, Israel was warned by Egypt and the U.S. of the potential for violence days in advance, and Israel’s own military leaders received “troubling information” the night before the attack. But not to worry, the head of Israel’s internal security agency has taken the blame for failing to prepare for the Hamas attack which will deflect blame – but only for a time before the real bloodletting.
Eighty-six percent of Jewish Israelis surveyed this week said they “believe that the government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are to blame for the mass infiltration of Hamas terrorists into Israel and the massacre that followed.” And “79 percent of Jewish Israelis who identified as supporters of Netanyahu’s pre-attack coalition blamed Saturday’s surprise attack by Hamas on ‘a failure of the country’s leadership’”
After the Hamas attack Israel’s leaders must have been disoriented: Don’t we have an understanding? We gave you all that money!
And Hamas was happy to take the money, but a guy like Netanyahu, who believes in nothing, invariably gets in trouble when he encounters people who believe in something.
According to journalist Seymour Hersh, Netanyahu made a deal with Qatar that it would fund Hamas because “Bibi was convinced that he would have more control over Hamas with the Qatari money” and “you can create a Frankenstein and keep control of it.” Netanyahu’s plan was to divide power between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, that was controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and “most of the time, Israeli policy was to treat the Palestinian Authority as a burden and Hamas as an asset.”
Well, it was good while it lasted, and in 2019, Netanyahu put it out there for all to see: “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas,” Netanyahu told his Likud party’s Knesset members in March 2019. “This is part of our strategy.”
It is also part of Iran’s strategy as Tehran pays over $100 million a year to Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, according to the U.S. State Department.
Israel should have learned from America’s experience with the Taliban where a useful, well-funded vessel that always publicly declaimed its goals eventually turned on its paymaster.
And the Hamas charter is clear as to its aims, so a violent confrontation was inevitable, despite Hamas’s double-dipping.
And, more importantly, is America walking into a trap?
What should the U.S. do?
First, no boots on the ground, despite the demands of the Sofa Samurai in media and think tanks, whose kids won’t be doing any of the fighting. According to a recent poll, 65% of U.S. adults support Israel in the war, though there is a generational divide with support slipping from a high of 83% with Baby Boomers (who are too old to fight) to 48% for Gen Z/Millennials (who aren’t).
Regardless of American sentiment, this is Israel’s fight and the U.S. should limit its support to selling Tel Aviv all the weapons it wants, and providing intelligence and political support. Israel’s poor state of readiness left the doors and windows open, despite several timely warnings. If U.S. support proves decisive, the Americans will never be forgiven.
Second, don’t attack Lebanon, a country that is not at war with the U.S. America may be the Michael Corleone of West Asia, but hitting Iran’s ally, even if Hezbollah lobs some rockets at Israel, may make Tehran consider its options, like detaining more Iranian-Americans, or blocking the Strait of Hormuz, though that will damage the lately improving relations with Saudi Arabia, and anger China, which buys most of Iran’s oil.
And any potential disruptions to Persian Gulf energy traffic will draw more U.S. forces to the region which will benefit China as those units may deploy from Pacific bases, but U.S. Navy units may then seize cargos bound for China. Instead, the U.S. needs to contain the violence to the Israel-Gaza cockpit until it burns itself out or negotiations commence.
What Iran will do, though, is pause and observe. The U.S. is trying to determine if Iran had a role in the Hamas attack, though a leak from the U.S. security services indicated Iran was surprised by the attack, which may make it harder to attack Iran, which is Washington’s real target, not Hamas or Hezbollah. But if the U.S. permanently blocks the return of Iran’s $6 billion, that Tehran was promised as part of the recent prisoner swap, the regime may start enriching uranium to weapons-grade (90%) purity while Israel is preoccupied in Gaza.
Third, don’t ignore the rest of the world. The U.S. effort to press-gang the Global South into the NATO-Russia war in Ukraine alienated many countries in Africa and Asia who were happy to see White men settling their hash in their home countries for a change.
And the Global South was always with the Palestinians as they think Israel is Britain’s colonial project to settle Europeans in the Muslim Middle East. It’s not about anti-Semitism, which is the West’s lazy, default response, but long experience at the sharp end of the West’s mission civilisatrice.
This week, as the U.S. and Europe are giddy with excitement about more violence in the Middle East, China is hosting 13o world leaders for the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation to mark the tenth anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping probably isn’t a religious man, but this week he is lighting a candle to the Madonna: he gets to talk to the leaders of most of the world about improving people’s lives though state-led development (the model in most of the world) and “win-win cooperation.” And during breaks everyone can check their new Huawei Mate 60 smartphone for video of America’s proxy Israel blowing up the Gaza Strip.
Last, it’s the economy, stupid. The U.S. has dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean as a show of support for Israel. If the U.S. starts a shooting war, the price of oil will climb. The market reacted mildly to the Hamas attack, though Big Oil share prices “soared” on 16 October according to OilPrice.com, but the U.S. is in no shape for another war when it is trying to prop up Ukraine’s failing counteroffensive against Russia, and is preparing for what may officials see (or hope) as an inevitable war with China.
About the finances, America is about $34 Trillion in debt; its bond rating was recently cut to AA+; borrowing costs are climbing as the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds is at a 16-year high of 4.71%; debt service will be bigger than the Defense Department budget by 2024 and interest payments on the debt are currently on “track to nearly double between 2020 and 2023 and projected to double again by 2032,” the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget notes, partly because the U.S. government now has to roll over money it borrowed for cheap at much higher rates; and there are only 17 days inventory in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon last week said, “Now may be the most dangerous time the world has seen in decades.” Also, last week traders placed calls for $150 oil in March 2024.
What happens in March 2024?
The state primaries for the 2024 presidential election start on 5 March, and $150 oil will turn what will be a contentious election, especially if Donald Trump is on the ballot, into trench warfare.
America’s politicians like to go on and on about “election integrity” but it’s about more than checking IDs and preventing (or encouraging) ballot harvesting. An election needs to proceed in an atmosphere where voters can calmly and mutually consider their situation and which candidate is best qualified to lead the country over the next four years. The 2016 and 2020 elections severely stressed the country. In 2024, America’s leaders should restrain their 40-year grudge against the Islamic Republic and instead ensure the looming conflict in the Levant doesn’t disrupt the country’s immediate interests: economic recovery and a fair election.
This article was published by Defense.Info