It is impossible not to notice the timing of this week’s incipient Middle East regional war. It comes approximately one week after Barack Obama was re-elected to the presidency. Last Tuesday, Obama won re-election; four days later, Hamas began firing rockets on Israel’s southern cities in a new wave. The day after that, Syria began shelling Israeli positions in the north. And two days after that, the Palestinian Authority told the press that they would be making another bid for statehood at the United Nations; the same day, riots began in Jordan over gas price increases.
The region is descending into war because of weakness in the White House – but also because each of the regional players, with the exception of Israel and the current Jordanian and Turkish governments (both of them have been silent), has an interest in war. Obama’s empty chair foreign policy has incentivized virtually every anti-American regime in the region into greater aggressiveness. Now Obama is attempting to stuff the genie back into the bottle by issuing statements of support for Israel. But it’s too little too late.
Here’s how the various players break down:
Hamas. Hamas’ goal here is simple, Now that President Obama has been re-elected – and knowing what they do about Obama’s dislike of the Jewish State – Hamas wants to take the opportunity to forge its international alliances more strongly. That means shoring up its relationship with Iran and Egypt especially. Iranian Revolutionary Guard figures are reportedly helping Hamas arm and fire its rockets; Egypt is sending its Prime Minister to the Gaza Strip to show solidarity. At the same time, Hamas is attempting to stop the Palestinian Authority from garnering the sympathy of the other Arab states with its incipient UN bid, since Hamas and the PA are effectively at war. This newest conflict gives Hamas the public relations upper hand over the supposedly more moderate PA (which is somewhat like calling the Mensheviks the more moderate communists).
Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority wants to see how far it can push President Obama; that’s why they’re pursuing statehood unilaterally, in violation of all prior agreements. The truth is that Palestinian statehood will not solve any of the problems between the Arabs and Israel; it will merely exacerbate them, since the Palestinian Authority will immediately use its newfound statehood to call for control of the West Bank borders, jacked up militarization, and a split of Jerusalem. The new war in Gaza provides the Palestinian Authority with an excuse for statehood – they can now claim, however implausibly, that the peace process has failed, and they must move now.
Egypt. Egypt has been looking to violate the Camp David Accords ever since American ally Hosni Mubarak was ousted in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now they get their chance. Ignoring all American calls to the contrary, Egypt is siding publicly with Hamas, sending its Prime Minister and intelligence chief there to show support. Already, insiders in the Egyptian parliament are calling for an end to the Egypt-Israel treaty.
Syria. Israel has long feared that a wounded Bashar Assad regime in Syria would turn south, trying to provoke Israel into war in order to unify the competing Syrian factions into an anti-Israel force. Now that’s happened. Assad was on the brink in Syria (not that his replacements will be any better); he is attacking Israel from the north even as Hamas attacks from the South. In doing so, he buys credibility with his own people and continued support from Iran.
Iran. Iran wants all attention off its nuclear program. Iran has routinely used terrorist groups surrounding Israel as a proxy; Iran’s pitch to the regional Muslims is that should they go nuclear, they will be able to fight Israel to death in a war of attrition in which nuclear deterrence prevents Israel from saving itself. Meanwhile, while the world focuses on Israel striking back at Hamas in Gaza, it ignores Iran’s continued moves toward nuclear proliferation.
Jordanian Opposition. The current turmoil in Gaza has taken focus off of a Palestinian uprising in Jordan. Jordan has long been Israel’s only quiet border. Now the 70% Palestinian population of Jordan threatens to overthrow the current regime, turning Jordan into yet another Islamist state bent on Israel’s destruction. Were Jordan’s Hashemite kingdom to fall, Jordan would surely attempt to forge a strong alliance with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – and could even try to annex that territory.
Lebanon. Hezbollah-run Lebanon couldn’t be happier about the current conflict. In many ways, Israel’s 2000 evacuation of southern Lebanon paved the way for today’s conflict; each time Israel has pulled out from territory, terrorist groups in the region have sensed weakness and attacked. Now southern Lebanon is a terrorist stronghold. Watch for Hezbollah to launch an assault on northern Israel the moment Israel puts boots on the ground in Gaza.
Turkey. Turkey is the only enemy of Israel sorry to see this happen. That’s because Turkey supports the Syrian opposition, and Syria is taking part in a war against Israel. That puts Turkey in the awkward position of opposing Assad but supporting a war against Israel. So far, they’re not stepping into the breach – especially not when NATO is considering defense of Turkey over Syrian aggression.
Saudi Arabia. Saudia Arabia, having been assured by the Obama administration that Israel will eventually be forced into concessions, is happy to sit on the sidelines and wait. They don’t want to encourage Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood openly, lest the royal family be overthrown in the style of Egypt or potentially Jordan.
Conflict in the Middle East is nothing new. But this multipronged conflict is truly the first transnational effort against Israel since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It’s been brought on by Barack Obama’s embrace of the Arab Spring, his gap with Israel, and his failure to stand up to Islamism. Israel’s enemies believe that Israel stands alone, no matter what words the State Department mouths. And so the rockets will continue falling.