The latest round of hostilities between Israel and Gaza have concluded. The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire has taken effect and it appears this latest spasm of Israel-Hamas violence is destined to follow a familiar pattern: Tensions rose and fighting between Israel and Gaza militants broke out. Escalation followed with Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes taking place around the clock. After an obligatory period of silence, Palestinian government officials quietly approached UN and Egyptian diplomats and inquired about the chances of a third-party ceasefire. After a period of backchannel diplomacy, a deal was formed and presented to both parties. Israel agreed without preconditions since its military goals had already been met. Palestinian authorities took their cues from Hamas and readily agreed to the ceasefire. Now the fighting is over and the post-crisis cycle begins once again. Residents of Gaza will clear the rubble, Hamas will begin funneling in weapons, Israel will warily monitor its neighbor and the rest of the world will soon lose interest. Oh, and of course Hamas will claim victory.
We’ve been down this road enough times before and in all likelihood will be traveling it again sooner than expected.
Tensions will remain high for some time, and this ceasefire is no less fragile than those of the past. It will not take much for the fighting to resume. The underlying causes of the conflict remain unchanged: land rights in West Bank, religious tensions in Jerusalem and no prospects for a Mid-East peace process aimed at resolving the conflict in an acceptable way for all parties.
Last but not least is President Joe Biden’s attempt to take some credit for the ceasefire when the truth is that his efforts, undertaken relatively late in the game, came at a point when a ceasefire was already a foregone conclusion. Sources I’ve spoken with in the past 4 hours have confirmed that Biden’s discussions with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi came after Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire were already underway.
US President Joe Biden’s call for ‘significant de-escalation’ of the fighting between Gaza and Israel apparently fell upon deaf ears. The content and tone of the message was intended to project the image of a confident US president able to bring Israel in line with his wishes. Unfortunately for Biden, his attempt at tough-love diplomacy fell hopelessly short for two reasons.
The first reason is that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no friend of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. Specifically, it has been the recent US diplomatic attempts to reenter the JCOPA on favorable terms that has gotten under Israel’s skin. This stance is not expected to change given that Iran is suspected of playing the role of instigator behind the scenes of the fighting. The other reason has to do with the purpose behind Biden’s call. At home he is facing significant pressure from a progressive arm of his own party, which is more sympathetic with the Palestinian cause. By calling Israel on the carpet and adopting a strong tone, Biden is hoping to put a damper on domestic criticism of how his administration is handling the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
It’s all a moot point now, however. Israel rejected the call immediately. Netanyahu said earlier today that he is “determined to continue” operations against Hamas on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. The Israeli prime minister was diplomatic in his official reply, saying he “greatly appreciates the support of the American president.” However, he made it clear Israel will “return the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel.”
Israel’s rejection of Biden’s call opens the door for Washington to explore indirect diplomacy with European and other world powers to bring about a ceasefire and eventual end to the fighting. The US needs to keep in mind that the fighting will come to a stop at some point while its relationship with Israel will continue indefinitely. Therefore, the Biden administration should consider its next move carefully and make certain it does not take any action that Israel won’t be able to forgive. The White House also has to keep in mind that America’s allies around the world are watching closely. A failure to fully support Israel, a close US ally, could cause nations like Taiwan, Japan, and Poland to reevaluate Washington’s promises to come to their aid in times of trouble.
On Tuesday, Israel increased the tempo of offensive operations against Hamas targets on the Gaza Strip. In response, heavy militant rocket fire was directed against parts of Israel for much of the day. This has been the heaviest fighting between Israel and Hamas since 2014 and shows no signs of letting up in the near future. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to expand the offensive in the face of the militant rocket attacks.
This round of Israel-Hamas hostilities has escalated rapidly. Jerusalem was the flashpoint this time, with religious tensions serving as the fuse. Confrontations broke out last weekend at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism. Through four days, Israeli police fired tear gas rubber bullets at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs at the police. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque. On Monday evening, Hamas started firing rockets from Gaza. From that point forward, escalation was swift and inevitable.
Diplomats moved on the crisis immediately. Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations are working to bring about a cease-fire. All three act as mediators between Israel and Hamas. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded end to the violence. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to the Israeli foreign minister to condemn the Hamas attacks and “reiterate the important message of de-escalation,” the State Department said. The interesting exclusion in Blinken’s message is any form of support by the Biden administration. So far, it appears that the White House wants the US to be seen as a potential peacemaker or mediator and not an ally of Israel.
Today the Pentagon, and US intelligence community continue to monitor the Middle East for indications that Iran is preparing to retaliate against Israel for its recent strikes against Iranian weapons facilities in Syria and Iraq. Israel also struck targets in Lebanon and Gaza in the last few days, escalating its campaign to deny Iran the ability to establish forward bases in close proximity to Israeli territory. With the attacks over, Israel, the United States, and the rest of the world have been waiting ever since for the Iranian response. It has yet to come though there is little doubt it will eventually.
The latest Israeli attacks differed from previous ones made against Iranian targets in Syria, and other areas. In the past, Israel has been covert regarding these efforts. This time, it was quite open about them. Some analysts believe the change has come at the behest of the United States, which has intensified pressure on Iran in recent months. Whether this is the case or not, it does not appear Iran is ready to confront Israel militarily. Tehran would be more likely to respond through its surrogates in Syria and Lebanon, most prominently Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has blamed Israel for a drone attack in a Beirut neighborhood early Sunday morning. One of the helicopter-type devices crashed and was recovered by Hezbollah members. The problem with the claim is that the physical characteristics of the recovered drone do not look like any type that Israel operates. This has led to much speculation about the origin of the drone. A number of military analysts around the world have suggested the drone is actually Iranian, leading to the assumption Sunday’s attack was a less-than-elaborate ruse on the part of Hezbollah and Iran.
If this is the case, it seems clear Iran and Hezbollah are either attempting to establish a faux justification for future hostilities against Israel, or simply building an equally as deceptive public relations campaign against their enemies in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
In either case, expect there to be more activity in the region over the coming weekend.
With the deadline for a decision on the future of the Iran nuclear deal approaching, supporters and detractors of the agreement have been showcasing positions over the past week in an effort to influence President Trump’s final decision on whether or not the deal will be scrapped. It is no secret that Trump has long viewed the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as deeply flawed and overly advantageous to Tehran.
Last week the subject broached during French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to Washington. Macron, an ardent supporter of the deal, as well as Europe’s role in crafting it, has been pushing hard to rescue the nuclear deal. Macron, along with the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, are convinced that the agreement is the best instrument to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Yesterday, Macron spoke with his Iranian counterpart President Hassan Rouhan and urged him to enter negotiations on the deal, but Rouhan declared it to be non-negotiable.
Israel, a major opponent to the deal, has been pressuring the United States to scrap the deal entirely. Yesterday’s presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a tad light on facts though it did serve to highlight Israel’s position with regards to JCPOA, as well as its fervent belief that Iran is still conducting nuclear research in violation of the deal. Netanyahu, and other members of the Israeli government have been conducting behind the scenes discussion with their US counterparts. Although the final decision on the fate of the nuclear deal will be made by President Trump, Israel is working hard to influence that decision to its favor, especially as tensions between Tel Aviv and Tehran have spiked in recent months.
The nuclear deal is only one part of the growing conflict between Iran and Syria. Iran’s increasing involvement in Syria is another. Tehran’s actions in Syria have brought on a heightened Israeli military response over the past two months. The latest example of this was a Sunday airstrike against an Iranian target near the city of Hama in Syria. Concern is growing in Washington about the growing conflict between Iran and Israel.
Trump’s final decision on the future of JCPOA, no matter what it may be, will undoubtedly have a far-reaching effect across the globe.