Thursday, December 7, 2023

GAZA: WAR AND POLITICS

The Israeli-Hamas war has entered it's third phase after the collapse of the hostage exchange truce which was an important but limited success.  The first stage after the Hamas terrorist rampage of Israel on November 7 was the prolonged and intensive bombing campaign of Hamas operational centers spread throughout Gaza but concentrated on the north.  The second phase was the much anticipated IDF ground attack also emphasizing the Hamas presence in the north.  The current phase is a continuation of both previous operations and like the others, complicated by the Hamas tactic of imbedding it's forces in the dense Gazan civilian population. 

Emotionally intense videos of the vast destruction and human casualties of the bombing campaign as well as the loss of utilities, water and food that the civilian population of Gaza has suffered and will likely continue to suffer as the war continues. This has created an international opinion reversal from the initially brief outrage over the heinous atrocities committed by Hamas and its terrorist militia associates in Israel, to a more generalized hostility and condemnation of Israel for its response.

This reversal was predicted by seasoned observers of the 75 year long history of what is at its' core a racial/religious based conflict focused on claims of historic rights to lands in what is one of histories most ancient regions of civilization.  

In the current version of the conflict, President Biden was quick to make his public support for Israel strong and unequivocable. Making a quick trip to Tel Aviv he met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and announced "Our support for Israel is 'rock solid'.  He concluded his visit by exchanging a "bear hug" with the Prime Minister.  Although Biden has a long history of adlibbing without careful consideration of the political sensitivities of his remarks, he undoubtedly felt secure in expressing renewed strong support for Israel that has been a fundamental political element of U.S. foreign policy by administrations of both parties for the entirety of the existence of the Jewish state. Also, the Jewish vote in American presidential elections though a small percentage of the national popular vote, has been concentrated in large states like Florida, California, New York and Illinois and has historically gone to the Democrat Party by upwards of 80%.  

 Now, reality has belatedly raised its inconvenient political face to confront the Biden administration over the President's strong, and now seemingly impetuous, vigorous support for Israel and its' understandably strong response to the Hamas attack. Much has been made in U.S. opinion journals of the strong anti-Israel, and by implication, anti-U.S. support  of Israel in the "Arab street" as evidenced by large, hostile public protests.  Of course it should be noted  that there are no Arab or other Islamic nations in the Middle East that are political democracies which enshrine freedom of speech and assembly as does the U.S. and other Western democracies.  Arab states and Iran have long tolerated or encouraged anti-Israeli national attitudes in part as a long established tactic to offer up a common enemy to unite and divert attention from such domestic policies as poverty and ruthless and arbitrary  governance. So it is not surprising that a war involving both the perennial "enemy" Israel and an Arab, Islamist political entity, no matter its terrorist character, would stimulate public anger.  But, the anger and protests have spread across Western Europe and the United States. These events have taken on a decidedly ideological character as the political Left bolstered by Arab, Islamic immigrants abroad and Arab hyphenated Americans and holders of temporary student visas in the U.S. have assumed the role of leading activists.  It has also caused divisions in the historically liberal American Jewish community with supporters of Israel and supporters of leftist pacifist and racial attitudes facing a conundrum of loyalties.

The Biden administration is now feeling political pressures from the Left in an election year, and one in which Biden's candidacy is facing an unprecedented lack of enthusiasm from his own party. The result has been yet another instance of "interpretation' of Biden's unscripted public remarks by his guardians.

The emissary of this reinterpretation is Secretary of State Blinken who found it necessary to make a hasty trip to Israel and confront Prime Minister Netanyahu over "U.S. concerns".  In his post conference media event Blinken said: "I underscored the 'imperative' of the U.S. that the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale that we saw in northern Gaza not be repeated in the south." "I made it clear that Israel 'must' put in place humanitarian protection plans that minimize further casualties of innocent Palestinians".  These would include "safeguarding" hospitals and power stations and creating "safe areas" out of the combat zone.  Also, Blinken went on, "Israel must permit civilians who fled south to go back north before Israel resumes operations." Of course "safe areas" for civilians would also be safe areas for Hamas supporters and combatants and allowing "civilians" who fled the north to go back would also include Hamas fighters who are indistinguishable from true civilians.

This is very strong language to be directed at a sovereign nation who was attacked by an external enemy  and who considers itself in a state of war with that enemy.  The obvious implication is that Blinken and President Biden's "rock solid" support of Israel is in reality conditional, meaning they consider the historic support for Israel exemplified by large annual financial aid to be dependent on their approval of Israel's domestic and defense policies.  In this case those policies are founded on Israel's belief that it is engaged in a war for national survival.  Blinken's use of the words like "must put in place", and "imperative of the United States" with regard to the conduct of such a war is a profound intervention into basic principles of sovereignty.  The obvious domestic political motivations of such a departure from Biden's original unqualified support undermines Blinken's alleged humanitarian concerns.

A previous attempt by the Biden administration to intervene in Israeli domestic policy occurred when the extreme right wing members of Netanyahu's governing coalition proposed legislation that would limit their Supreme Court from overturning legislative decisions. While this policy would be a direct rebuttal of the U.S. Supreme Court's long standing constitutional interpretation of the legitimacy of "judicial review' by the Court (Marbury vs. Madison), no such provision exists except by tradition in Israel. When Biden reproached Netanyahu, a coalition member responded by saying that "Israel is not the fifty-first star on the American flag." That same attitude would seem to apply in this more serious situation.  Although as yet unspoken, the Israeli war cabinet, as long as it has the support of the Israeli people, will continue to carry out the strategies they believe will provide the ultimate and necessary elimination of Hamas as a threat to the Jewish state. 

Finacial aid to Israel is not premised solely on their right to establish and maintain a Jewish state after centuries of harsh discrimination and suppression. The U.S. has legitimate national security interests in supporting the sole democratic state in the region which also possesses  the strongest military.  Since 1979 and Iran's establishment of a revolutionary Islamic theocratic state, it has promoted hostility to the West and the U.S. as it attempts to establish itself as a dominant regional entity. Israel plays an important role as a counter weight to those ambitions especially as Iran continues to seek to become a nuclear power.  

Making U.S. aid to Israel conditional will not go unnoticed by other recipients of similar financial aid.  Egypt, home of the largest Arab population in the Middle East is also a recipient of significant annual aid from the U.S.  This assistance came as part of the historic peace treaty implemented between Egypt and Israel in 1979. General security guarantees were put in place including military and financial aid. The result has been a total since 1978 of $50 billion in military aid and $30 billion in financial aid going to Egypt.  Egypt is governed by a military dictatorship.  The present government of President General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power after a coup which replaced President Mohammed Morsi who was elected in 2013 and then imprisoned.  Al-Sisi then staged another presidential election in which Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party was not allowed to participate.  This party was the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamic group which has been connected with sponsoring Islamic terrorism abroad.  Al-Sisi "somehow" managed to squeak by with 97% of the votes cast. Although the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act bans aid to governments who took power by military coup, President Biden has taken the position that U.S. national security interests out weigh human rights in the case of Egypt but not his domestic political interests with regard to Israel, and in September of this year, 2023,he sent another 1.215 billion dollars in military aid to Egypt. 

Essentially, Biden took the traditional path in his initial strong support for Israel, a seemingly safe position before the IDF moved into Gaza and considering the historical support of America's Jewish population for liberal Democrat candidates.  Now with his job approval sinking dramatically, and the vital youth and minority voting blocs showing signs of weakness for his 2024 reelection, he is using his administration spokesmen to alter his political message, an obvious election based crack in his "rock solid" support for Israel.         Demanding that Israel protect civilians while conducting a war in a densely populated urban environment sounds like a human values message but no one making these demands, including the UN, the  Pope, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus has offered ideas on how this is possible.  What they propose instead is a "cease fire" which would give the terrorist  Hamas and their sponsor Iran a victory from which they could rebuild and continue their avowed program to destroy the state of Israel.   

But Biden can't have it both ways and tilting back and forth will continue to make some groups angry. Few will switch their support to Trump but some on election day will just stay home and join thousands of others who are simply disgusted with the ridiculous choice imposed on the nation by blind loyalist minorities in both parties.