More than 18,000 rockets have been fired on Israel by terrorist Hamas in the last week. That is not an accident. It is provocation. The only question is – who pushed that button? Knowing Israel defends itself, who wants conflict? Candidates are several. Implications are profound, identifiable, and dangerous. The world is edging toward a major war.
Understanding what is happening is the only way to confront those pushing war – and stop it. Mainstream media say the attack is just a resurgent Israeli-Palestinian conflict over East Jerusalem. That is shallow. Larger forces are at play.
Gaza, controlled by Hamas since the 2007 coup, is the source of the missiles, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad claiming credit. But to stop there is naïve. The source of this attack is the confluence of other moving parts – geopolitical influences that need to be candidly confronted by the Biden Administration.
First, within the Middle East, Iran is the preeminent spoiler, top terror sponsor, and sworn enemy of Western values. Iran is looking for distractions, a way to complete nuclear weapons, then take whole nations hostage, empowering radical Islam.
Iran is also desperate to break the pro-peace momentum created by President Trump through bilateral deals with Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, and progress with Oman, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia. Peace in the Middle East – centered on bilateral deals with Israel – would isolate Iran. See, e.g., https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-middle-east-peace-deals-what-to-know.
Iran is tightly tied – financially, strategically, and operationally – to anti-Western terror, including Hamas. While Biden negotiates with Iran in Vienna, Iran supports attacks by Hamas on US ally Israel.
Accordingly, the US should suspend the Vienna talks, affirm Trump’s sanctions will stay in place, and rally Europeans to the cause. This should end the folly of buying a non-nuclear Iran with US tax dollars – never going to happen. Iran does not want peace. Moreover, the Iranian people will trade sanctions for freedom. See, e.g., https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/iranians-to-the-biden-administration-do-not-lift-sanctions-on-iran-opinion/ar-BB1gJi72?ocid=uxbndlbing.
But Iran is not the only reason Israel is under attack. A second reason is opportunism, the global grasp – by allies and adversaries – that Biden-Harris is weak, ill-prepared, ideologically divided, a US administration with no coherent foreign or national security strategy, more about appeasement than deterrence, unclear about geopolitical threats, and ripe for routing.
Third, China is deeply involved in the Middle East, beginning with Iran. China sees the world as a zero-sum game and wants to win. The more Western values are under attack, the greater China's opportunity to strike while the iron is hot. China has no love for Israel or the values of democracy.
More urgently, China knows that if the US is engaged in defending Israel – if war widens – the moment is perfect to overrun Taiwan, ending 70 years of democracy and independence in that country, sweeping it into Communist China’s cave, as China is doing with Hong Kong.
China surely sees other opportunities if the Middle East explodes – a chance to take the Spratly Islands, decisively ending territorial disputes with Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei, perhaps also the Senkaku islands near Japan. Nor would they stop there. China has eyes on multiple continents. See, e.g., https://airpowerasia.com/2020/07/06/chinas-serious-border-disputes-with-most-neighbours-unilateral-approach-india-the-bulwark-comprehensive-story/; https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/20/asia/china-japan-islands-dispute-hnk-intl/index.html.
Russia also is an opportunist, whether complicit in the attacks on Israel. In the Middle East, instability helps Russia, which hopes to supplant the US – and Western values – across the region, partnering with Iran, Syria, Libya, Egypt, select Gulf States, and Afghanistan. When the US pulls back, it goes weak – Russia is there. See, e.g., https://www.jpost.com/international/russias-role-in-middle-east-concerning-for-israel-and-us-667303.
Russia gains in other ways from war, isolating Israel and distracting the US. Russian troops are now massed on the border of Ukraine, contiguous with Eastern Europe, in numbers never seen before. Those troops are not sightseers, nor are others a threat to Russia. So, why are they there? Waiting – for their moment. See, e.g., https://www.voanews.com/europe/eu-russian-troop-buildup-along-ukraine-crimea-highest-ever#:~:text=PARIS%20-%20The%20European%20Union%20says%20roughly%20150%2C000,Ukraine%20border%20and%20annexed%20Crimea%20as%20very%20worrying; https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/05/us/politics/biden-putin-russia-ukraine.html.
Finally – most dangerously – provoking war in the Middle East forces a “support-or-abandon” decision by Biden with respect to Israel. That turn may have origins closer to home. Parts of the Administration and the anti-Israel, pro-Islamic Democratic Party would welcome the abandonment of Israel.
While this is hard to conceive – a shift of this magnitude within the Democratic Party – it is hard to deny. Just as portions of the Democratic Party shifted left to centralized government, the opposition of First, Second, and Tenth Amendment rights and alienates blue collar and minority supporters, they are shifting on foreign affairs.
Reality is that a non-trivial part of the Democratic Party is now actively anti-Israel, pro-Islamic thinking, at least in the Middle East, and seems unmoved by the prospect of terrorists overrunning Israel. This leads one to wonder – the way John Kerry secretly briefed Iran – what is going on? See, e.g., https://www.foxnews.com/politics/democrats-divided-israel-hamas-biden-ocasio-cortez-ilhan-omar.
Voices that should be standing up for Israel in this White House and Congress – are not. This is shocking, given the history of Israel, our alliance, their cultural past, the importance of the Holy Land to Americans, and the nation’s physical isolation. Where is Biden? Harris? Schumer? Pelosi? Where is the counterforce within the Democratic Party saying to their radical left “stop the madness, sit down, … Western values, Israel’s existence, role in the world, defense of stability is essential”? Nowhere. Why?
Bottom line: International relations, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If no one in the Biden White House steps up, steps in, squares away this potentially devastating – lose-lose – situation in the Middle East, war will widen. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Iran, China, Russia, and some in an out-of-sync Democratic Party will celebrate. America, Europe, democracies around the world – including Israel – will lose if that happens. Biden-Harris – and all responsible Americans – should be defending Israel, period.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, a former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, a ten-year naval intelligence officer, author of “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is the National Spokesman for the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) a 2.3 million-strong, non-partisan group for Americans 50+.