Salvo 05.31.2024 10 minutes

Unity of Purpose in the Middle East

First Israeli Minister in UAE after normalization deal

There is broad agreement among Israelis and Arab governments on goals and tactics in Gaza, and the overarching goal of containing Iran.

Editors’ Note

Click here to read the second article on the author’s recent trip to the Middle East.

I returned a week ago from meetings in the Middle East that underscore the serious mischaracterizations that are gaining traction regarding Israel’s operations in Gaza, the domestic political situation in Israel, and the perspectives of Arab governments in the region. The false accusation of genocide leveled against Israel, most recently by the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the personalization of this libel against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, most notably by International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan’s ultra vires application for an arrest warrant, are endemic to leftwing antisemitism and antipathy to Western values.

As a member of a small delegation from the Republican Jewish Coalition, I participated in private conversations of 60 to 90 minutes in Israel and the United Arab Emirates with, among others, Netanyahu, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer (generally viewed as Netanyahu’s closest advisor), Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, members of the Knesset (not all of whom are traditional Netanyahu supporters), UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Defense Counsel, Dr. Ali Rashid al Nuaimi, other security, and political officials, and business leaders.

Generally, these meetings proceeded under rules that allow me to describe the subject matter, and to identify, but not quote, the participants.

We also met with families of hostages, participated in the annual Holocaust remembrance at Yad Vashem (the first since the October 7 attack), and visited IDF bases in Israel and the West Bank, where, even when off duty, soldiers carried M4 automatic weapons and side arms. We visited the site of the Nova music festival where Hamas massacred 360 civilians, and Kfar Azar, the first Kibbutz attacked by Hamas on October 7. While we were at Kfar Azar, just across from the Gaza strip, an artillery skirmish broke out between the IDF and Hamas. We could hear and feel the exchange, and were asked to move out of range of Hamas snipers.

At Kfar Azar we saw the bullet holes and debris of the October 7 attack, so helpfully captured by Hamas bodycams. We saw the wreckage of small homes in which Hamas executed children in front of their parents and parents in front of their children, raped, mutilated, and incinerated their victims, and took dozens of hostages. At the Novo site we met families of the dead. One woman, whose brother had been murdered by Hamas at the festival, wanted only to tell us about how kind he had been, and how he had learned Russian just so he could help a recent immigrant family who spoke no Hebrew.

While at IDF bases, the Nova site, and during down time, we spoke with people trying to go about their lives. Though the brevity of our time in UAE prevented us from obtaining a perspective as broad as during our more extended time in Israel, I engage in business in the Emirates and often speak with officials and average residents. Like me, several members of our delegation also often speak with officials and businesspeople in other Arab countries.

These meetings, discussions and activities confirm the ignorance and willful falsehoods advanced by progressives in the United States and Europe, and the culturally Marxist and antisemitic motives driving them to isolate Israel in support of Hamas, a terrorist organization that, unlike Israel, in fact, and openly, pursues a policy of genocide. Hamas’ founding charter, the Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement, issued in August 1988, states that Israel must be “obliterated” and that “Muslims must fight Jews and kill them.” In May 2017, without revoking its 1988 charter, Hamas issued A Document of General Principles and Policies that advocated the destruction of Israel “from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea.” Recent events make clear the annihilation of Jews remains at the forefront of Hamas’ purpose.

Photo credit: Kobi Gideon, GPO.

As John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point and the leading expert on urban warfare, explains, no military force has ever done more to avoid civilian casualties in urban warfare than Israel. It uses almost exclusively precision guided munitions, as well as satellite imagery, cell phone data, and direct observation for pinpoint targeting. It warns civilians with leaflets, text messages, loudspeaker announcements, and “roof-knocking,” where the IDF drops small munitions on a roof to notify everyone to evacuate. The United States did none of this ahead of its invasion of Iraq in 2003, or before its April 2004 Battle of Fallujah.

Civilians are in the line of fire not only because Hamas started this fight, but because Hamas uses civilians and civilian infrastructure to shield its forces, bases, and weapons. Even the recent death of 40 civilians in Rafah, initially blamed on Israel, now appears almost certainly to have been the result of the explosion of a Hamas ammunition dump located adjacent to the refugees’ tents. If Hamas did not hide behind women and children, few of them would be in harm’s way. And yet, despite this, the number of civilian casualties in this fight has been well below what could be expected based on urban warfare since World War I, even if the highly dubious, evolving, and declining Hamas casualty estimates are correct—which they are not. They are a careless mixture of real and invention.

Based on other wars over the last 100 years, and, for the United States, going back to its founding, the casualties inflicted by Israel in its reaction to the horrific October 7 attack are far more limited. As in every war, casualties are disproportionately sustained by people with the ethnicities of the combatants. That 20,000 or 50,000 of more than 2.3 million Gazans, and 5.8 million Palestinians, may be lost in this war does not make it a genocide; to the contrary, the result is remarkable proof of Israeli restraint, skill, and its use of precision weapons.

There is overwhelming support for destroying Hamas among Israelis and many of the neighboring Arab governments. There is nearly as much agreement on tactics. It is the Israeli war cabinet, representing a broad range of political perspectives, and not just the prime minister, who approved of these operations. Where there is disagreement about tactics, that disagreement is small within Israel, and only somewhat larger in the region. On the other hand, there are significant differences of opinion on how to govern Gaza “the day after” the hostilities end. These disagreements likely will lead to new elections in Israel and will tax Israel’s relationships in the region. It is unlikely that Israel will be able to normalize its relationship with Saudi Arabia while hostilities continue, or if its “day after” plans do not earn broad support of governments in the region.

Despite the general agreement on goals and means, some in Israel believe that obtaining the return of hostages, and hostage remains, is more important than the destruction of Hamas. While each hostage family’s story is heart-rending, giving power to those who take hostages cannot be the better course.

There also is concern that the public relations victories achieved by Hamas and progressives, as seen in the campus demonstrations at Columbia (a topic in almost every meeting) and other elite U.S. universities, the diktats of the ICC prosecutor and ICJ court, and the Biden administration’s sometimes scathing language and withholding of at least one shipment of arms, shows that Israel’s operations have the potential to splinter resistance against Iran, including when errors lead to avoidable civilian deaths. Balancing the region’s shared goal to destroy Hamas with its primary shared goal of containing Iran confuses perspectives on optimal tactics. This debate, however, is principally about how others perceive things, and not about what is right.

There also is widespread agreement that President Joe Biden has greatly damaged American prestige and credibility. From the rushed withdrawal in Afghanistan, to inconsistent support of Israel, fecklessness in fending off the Houthis, and lack of communication and coordination with Middle East allies, the United States is not seen as a trustworthy partner. That, more than any other takeaway, highlights the risks created by the Biden Administration’s embrace of the progressives’ evisceration of Western values and history, and its withdrawal from America’s post-World War II leadership.

There are peace-loving people who hate war and mourn for its victims. Their calls for a ceasefire are well intended. Then, there are progressives whose core goal is to bring down the “oppressors,” including whites, Jews, the United States, Israel, and more broadly, “the West.” These progressives are not altruistic and their leaders know they are holding Israel to an impossible and unprecedented standard by which to prosecute a war. That is their intention.

Though there is a broad consensus in Israel and among governments in the region to destroy Hamas, Israel may adjust its tactics to maintain and improve its relationships with supportive Arab neighbors, but it will not give up or give in to U.S. or European progressives who join with Iran and its proxies in seeking to obliterate Israel, Jews, and the West. As Netanyahu has publicly proclaimed, if Israel must proceed alone, it will do so. That should not be necessary.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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