This article was originally written during the earliest period of response by Israel to the rocket fire from Gaza in Nov. 2012.
During 2012 Hamas has fired over 800 missiles and mortars from the Gaza strip into Israel. The recent uptick in firings has led to retaliatory strikes by Israel. This resulted in the assassination of Hamas’ military leader Ahmed Jabari. At least 450 rockets have been fired during the past three days. Israel has called up 16,000 reservists for an anticipated ground war and possible incursion into Gaza. Already 30 people have died in the hostilities.
The Prime Minister of Egypt, Hesham Kandil, visited Gaza on Friday with a hope of ending hostilities. He has indicated that his country supports Hamas, a change from the past administration of Hosni Mubarak. But, the violence continues.
The escalation was predictable. Hamas leaders in the Gaza consistently test the leadership of the PLO and Mahmoud Abbas who controls the West Bank. He is weak and has asked the U.N. to recognize his territory as a new nation. That effort threatens his financial support from Israel and the U.S. Another challenge to Palestinian unity comes from Tunisian based Farouck Kaddoumi, who called for a federation between the West Bank and Jordan. In the Middle East the status quo is unacceptable and is exploited by hopeful challengers.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for early elections and must be perceived as protecting his country. Iran threatens Israel and continues to enrich uranium at a faster rate. Such work can only be aimed at bomb production. He has told the world that Iran will reach the red line at some time in the spring. Does Netanyahu believe that Obama will help if he attacks the Iranian nuclear facilities?
The Palestinian attacks had to be answered by Israel. Netanyahu has had a poor relationship with President Obama, though he is close friends with Governor Romney. Obama has supported Israeli defense, but with restraint. Netanyahu cannot expect Obama to have his back, which results in a more aggressive response. So full war threats mount.
Israel has four Iron Dome missile batteries to protect the country. Another battery is to be delivered soon. Defense Minister Barack is seeking three more batteries. Missile defenses have limitations: They cannot be used when the rocket firings are too close. They cannot hope to stop every attack. They are reactive and not offensive. They do not control destiny. Therefore, a ground war is more likely.
The attacks on Israel have involved Tel Aviv and Jerusalem using Iranian rockets. Iran encourages strife and turmoil through its terrorist surrogates. Weapons abound and move throughout the region. Thanks to the Libyan civil war efforts by the West to oust Kaddafi, sophisticated Western weapons are in the hands of Islamists. These weapons have been smuggled to Hamas in the Gaza. Iran uses surrogates to test Israeli defenses. Will Hezbollah fire missiles from Lebanon and widen the war?
An old adage reminds us to “beware what you wish for”. Democratization of the Middle East comes at a peril. Islamists gain in the elections and oppose American policy. The President encouraged the Arab spring revolution which began in Tunisia. Syria is engulfed in civil war. Egypt has turned against America as the Muslim Brotherhood has seized control. This was predictable as the Islamists are most organized. Egypt receives about $2 billion per year from the U.S. We have leverage, but Obama is loath to use it against Arab nations. Peace is not in the offering. The Obama foreign policy in the Middle East is under pressure.
Some call for the President to engage in Mid East peace talks. Until the Palestinians are willing to accept the existence of Israel, there can be no peace. This means the end of the “right of return”, which would lead to a Muslim majority in Israel. Israel sought a partner in Abbas, but his influence dwindles. He sought a seat at the UN, but was rebuffed. America appears unengaged. Foreign overtures by the U.S. are limited to the Afghanistan war.
Our influence in the Syrian crisis is limited since Russia is a continuing protectorate. Russia supports President Assad against the rebels. Syria is also the strongest ally of Iran in the Arab world. The hegemony continues since no Arab state is willing to engage Syria in battle. America provided air power to assist the rebels in Libya. However, this time the President is unwilling to do the same. In Libya, he used air power at the behest of the Europeans; this was done without seeking Congressional support. Ironically, Libya was no longer an enemy of U.S.A. as Khadafy resumed relations with our nation after the second Iraq war began.
The Syrian civil war threatens to involve other nations. Missiles from Syria have crossed into Turkey. Will combatants decide to involve Israel in the Golan Heights and redirect the war? The policy of leading from behind (as the administration described the Libyan effort) may allow Islamists in Syria to misjudge our resolve. Our country provides funds to many of the players, but will this translate into influence?
As the hearings regarding the murder of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th begin, some events become evident. People will argue whether the President was aware of the deteriorating conditions in Libya. There will be fights over his handling of the post-attack reaction. Our Middle East enemies will note that he was unengaged, a sign of weakness. Every void is an opportunity for aggressive action.
Our low profile in Libya left a small footprint. The Ambassador requested more security, but the
Department of State denied a greater military presence. This policy was naive and foolish. Radical elements in the Middle East are always testing for weakness. Moderation has never been a hallmark of strength in the area.
Our departure from Iraq has not evolved into a peaceful condition there. Bombings occur regularly and the extreme elements of the Sunni and Shiite communities vie for relevancy. As we draw down in Afghanistan, more extreme elements of the Taliban will arise. The administration has shown a desire to reduce aggressive rhetoric. Will these efforts result in peace? Can they keep us out of conflicts? Or will we be an unwilling victim of hostilities for years? In the Middle East, overtures for peace have often been confused for weakness. Weakness in the Middle East invites conflict.
Projection of power requires financial strength and a solid economy. The discussions to avoid the “fiscal cliff” will help maintain this stability. Any solution that weakens our economy will threaten our military strength. This may ultimately lead to more hostilities in the Middle East as the stabilizing influence provided by the U.S.A. shrinks. President Obama’s budgetary policies do not offer sustained economic growth. In the end, spending beyond ability was the ruin of the great military empires of the past and will lead to more wars.