Last week, I thought this column would be a snap. Tom Friedman had just written “Obama’s Nightmare,” positing that the Middle East has never been more unstable and closer to multiple, interconnected explosions. His column was all about the ethnic divides in Syria, a country whose “borders are particularly artificial.” No longer did Middle East peace hang on an Israeli-Palestinian peace but the need for a neutral third party, i.e., the United States, to referee a transition from the Assad regime to avoid a permanent Syrian civil war spreading throughout the region.
Then an Israeli air strike in Gaza killed Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing. Jabari topped Israel’s most-wanted list and was blamed for a string of attacks, including the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit.
Hamas said the attack “has opened the gates of hell.” And so it has.
Hamas has initiated an around-the-clock rocket barrage against Israel. But this is nothing new. Since Israel unilaterally left Gaza in 2005, a decision which will forever be second-guessed, terrorists have fired over 8,000 rockets into Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces. As of Nov. 17, over 540 rockets have struck Israel and over 300 have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile defense system.
In response to a New York Times editorial, the spokesperson for the Consulate General of Israel wrote, “the Palestinians could have turned Gaza into ‘a garden of Eden’; rather, they turned it into a haven for terror with advanced weapons and a multitude of terrorist groups bent on death and destruction.”
The New York Sun has an editorial in praise of Iron Dome as an example of the foresight of the “Zionist prophet, Vladimir Jabotinsky.” It supports Jabotinsky’s argument that only when not a single breach is visible in the “iron wall” that is Jewish resolve, “only then do extreme groups lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups.”
Gaza is not the only rocket launch site. Rockets have been launched out of the Egyptian Sinai. Thus, it is significant that on Nov. 16, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil visited Gaza officially to show solidarity with the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt claims that it is trying to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas. Meanwhile, thousands of Egyptians demonstrated Nov. 16 against Israeli air strikes, while Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi called them a “blatant aggression against humanity.”
Israel’s air strikes have claimed the Gaza City offices of Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of Hamas and the Hamas cabinet office building.
Hamas rocket attacks have included Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I find the latter surprising. If, as claimed by Muslims, Jerusalem is a holy city, why is it being targeted by rockets? Apparently, Hamas’ hatred for Israel is greater than its concern about the possible destruction of Al Aqsa mosque or the killing of Arabs in Jerusalem and surrounding areas.
Hamas’ ability to target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is due to longer-range missiles than previously used. These are Iranian Fajr-5 rockets, demonstrating an arms supply line from Iran. How did they get to Gaza? Were they smuggled in through Egypt or snuck in under the cover of “humanitarian” aid?
A source in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said Iran ordered the escalation of the Gaza conflict to show Israel that it cannot protect itself from Iran’s missiles. The source also said that Iran had armed Hizbullah with chemical and microbial weapons. This comes as the IAEA reported that Iran is set to sharply expand its uranium enrichment. Administration officials and diplomats said they believe, based on the IAEA reports and other intelligence, that it will be at least spring before Iran has amassed enough medium-enriched uranium to make a single weapon, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “red line.”
Israel is gearing up for a possible land offensive, one that may be underway by the time you read this column. While President Obama has said that Israel has “every right” to defend itself against missile attacks, he cautioned against “ramping up” military activity.
The Financial Times ran an insightful analysis with the premise that for the first time since the Arab revolutions a new Middle East is colliding with the old order. Echoing this and Friedman’s pre-hostilities column was Tariq Alhomayed, editor-in-chief of the most-read newspaper in the Arab world, al-Sharq al-Awsat, who believes the escalation was brought about by Iran and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. “Now, the best solution to get out of this war — or air strikes — in Gaza is to return to Syria, and strongly,” Alhomayed wrote, “for whoever is responsible for the launch of the home-made rockets in Gaza did this whilst being well aware that there is no equivalence. The whole purpose of this was to save al-Assad, whose days are numbered; indeed his ouster is just around the corner.”
Tom Friedman might just agree.