Hamas has just won a major victory over Israel

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The hostage deal has costs as well as benefits – and it’s the terrorists who stand to gain most

Beware of terrorists bearing gifts. Compassionate goals and unrelenting war make for a complex mix. While freeing Hamas’s October 7 victims is laudable, there are right and wrong ways to do so. There are costs as well as benefits. Here, Hamas has won a significant victory. Whether the deal sets a definitively negative precedent for Israel remains unclear, but it casts doubt on whether it will attain its legitimate goal of eliminating Hamas’s terrorist threat. 

The agreement is fatally defective in many ways, even if it proceeded flawlessly (which it has not). Hamas is set to release 50 terror victims, and Israel will release 150 accused or convicted criminals, a ratio the reverse of what we should consider civilised. Equating innocent victims with law-breakers is morally appalling. One fifteen-year-old “child” Israel listed for possible release was convicted of attempted murder for stabbing a neighbor. Many are male teenagers. You can guess why.  A critical argument for this deal now is removing hostages from danger, but it does nothing for those left behind. 

The releases are occurring over four days, during which Israeli military activity is “pausing” operations. Undoubtedly, Israel will use the pause to prepare the next phase of hostilities, rotating and resupplying troops and the like. But Hamas terrorists are the real beneficiaries of a cessation of hostilities. They have been pounded by air, and hunted down inside and under Gaza in their extraordinary tunnel networks. Israel’s military campaign is just in its opening phases, but Hamas has been significantly damaged. 

Why let up now? Hamas will use the pause to extricate its terrorists from a difficult position, exfiltrate assets and personnel into Egypt and Israel through undiscovered tunnels, and prepare southern Gaza for the next Israeli offensive. How many chances for faster advances or more surprise attacks will Israel lose due to this pause? How many more Israeli soldiers will die because of Hamas’s opportunity to set additional traps and further entrench itself? 

If Hamas chooses to release more hostages, the pause will be extended one day for each ten hostages. What conceivable justification is there to allow your enemy to unilaterally determine the length of the pause? And what if “technical difficulties” mean only six hostages are released; does Hamas still get another day of respite? Israel will unfairly bear the onus of resuming hostilities, adding leverage to Hamas propaganda efforts to erase its own October 7 barbarity. 

Inexplicably, both Jerusalem and Washington are suspending overhead surveillance of Gaza for six hours a day during the pause. This concession may be more significant than the pause itself because it denies Israel information about Hamas’s activities. Israel has agreed to be “eyeless in Gaza” during these terrorist-friendly time windows. 

The White House boasts that the deal means “a massive surge of humanitarian relief” into Gaza, but without adequate assurances the relief will go to those in need. When Herbert Hoover launched America’s first major international relief effort in World War I, he insisted on two conditions: aid must go only to non-combatants, and the donors must distribute or closely monitor its distribution. We have no idea how much will fall into Hamas’s hands, enabling more terrorism. 

Israel’s critical military problem is the opportunities it will miss by halting in mid-stream its increasingly successful assault. Hamas’s strategy is to take any pause, however short, and whatever its rationale, and stretch it into a permanent ceasefire. That may not happen on the first try, but the pressure on Israel to succumb will grow. 

Israel’s critical political risk is seeing its determination to eliminate Hamas undermined. Even chancier is the strength of US backing, which is already weakening. Biden’s initially robust rhetorical support for Israel has cooled, and his resolve shrinks daily under the assault of the Democratic party’s pro-Palestinian Left-wing. His problems will grow more acute as the 2024 presidential campaign unfolds. 

The benefits of freeing hostages are visible now. The much larger costs are on their way. 

This article was first published in The Telegraph on November 24, 2023. Click here to read the original article.

Israel is running out of time before Biden damns it to defeat

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We should be alarmed: the US’s support is rapidly eroding in part thanks to Iran’s propaganda efforts

US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s trip this week to Israel, Jordan and other key players in the region vividly demonstrates the dangerous misconceptions underlying America’s Middle East policy. Blinken’s visit also shows how rapidly Joe Biden’s superficially strong support for Israel is eroding. The Israel Defense Forces are now racing against time before he wilts under domestic and international pressure, and the West’s collective enemies exploit his flawed world view. 

Why, a month after one of this century’s worst acts of barbarism, are the perpetrators and their puppet-masters moving ever closer to skating free? 

First, before and after the October 7 massacres, Iran, Hamas and others masterfully deployed their information-warfare campaigns, asymmetrically attacking Israel’s very legitimacy. Jerusalem was initially unprepared, slow in responding, and still faces inhibitions – such as a need to tell the truth – that Hamas and its allies don’t share. The anti-Israel campaign’s target is not “the Arab street”, but Western decision-makers. Indeed, across the Middle East, most cities are quiet, almost business-as-usual. 

But in America and Britain, pro-Palestinian demonstrators jam the streets, denouncing alleged Israeli war crimes, and explaining away, or even justifying, Hamas’s invasion. The aim is to exploit Western weakness and lack of resolution. It seems to be working. In the UK, Labour is badly split, and in Washington, Biden faces intense pressure from the “progressive” Left. Keir Starmer sees his longed-for premiership dissolving before his eyes, and Biden worries his party’s extremists could cost him victory next November. They may both be correct.

Secondly, neither Washington nor London have articulated the larger strategic context of the Hamas attack, namely the fanatical religious and hegemonic aspirations of Tehran’s mullahs. Not doing so inevitably shields Iran and its proxies and impairs Israel’s inherent right to self-defence. Failing to see the real effective mastermind precludes addressing the full enormity of the risks Israel and its allies face – not just terrorist attacks, but straight up the escalation ladder to Iran’s nuclear weapons. Israelis get this, which is why former Mossad director Yossi Cohen urges hunting down every Iranian involved in the October 7 attacks. 

Hamas did not wake up one fine day and decide by itself to attack Israel. Along with Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Iraqi Shia militia, and many others, Hamas is a beneficiary of Iranian weapons, training, and finance. Its sneak attack has to be seen as part of Tehran’s larger strategy. Taken by surprise, Jerusalem is still struggling to grasp comprehensively Iran’s plan. Tehran’s surrogates are concealing their hand, but Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s recent speech shows their menace and resolve to break the will of Israel and its supporters by threatening wider regional war.

The Iran-Russia axis is also becoming clearer, with ominous reports that the Wagner Group will provide air defences to Hezbollah. Moscow has also criticised Israeli air strikes in Syria for violating international law, reversing long-standing acceptance of such operations. Russia and China, meanwhile, are supporting Hamas with propaganda and disinformation – a significant political signal.

Thirdly, through strategic failures of imagination and inadequate explanations of the full threats Israel faces from Iran, Britain and America risk losing the overall diplomatic battle. Blinken’s trip was to advocate for a “pause” in hostilities to allow more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. Others are calling for a full “ceasefire”. There is no meaningful distinction between these verbal formulations. A former US Senate staffer revealed the game by writing that halting the hostilities “that begins as a temporary measure, but which could be extended, is vitally necessary”.

Moreover, while the fate of the hostages Hamas kidnapped is important, and rightly a priority for Israel and others, it is not this conflict’s true centrepiece. Governments have moral obligations to protect their citizens, and Hamas’s taking of hostages will inscribe the full picture of the group’s inhumanity into history. 

Nonetheless, a government’s moral obligations extend to the whole nation, which Israel sees today as existentially threatened. Benjamin Netanyahu correctly emphasises that it is precisely military pressure that will produce more hostage releases, not gestures of goodwill, which Iran and its terrorist surrogates disdain. But if they persuade guileless Westerners that the stakes are only humanitarian issues in Gaza, they are more likely to prevail in arguing that Israel bears responsibility for the war continuing.

Netanyahu rejected Blinken’s démarche because Israel is literally in hand-to-hand combat against Hamas, but this is only the start of the propaganda campaign. When Biden calls for Israel to “pause” and sends Blinken to plead his case in Jerusalem, we should be alarmed. Israel has the resolve to continue, but its fate may lie in Washington and London. That is not good news.

This article was first published in The Telegraph on November 7, 2023. Click here to read the original article.

Biden risks American lives by refusing to hold Iran to account

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While there is no serious doubt Iran is driving the Middle East crisis, President Biden continues ignoring the strategic implications of this fundamental reality.

As in Ukraine, where the administration worries more about Russian “escalation” than Ukrainian victory, Biden worries more about the Middle East conflict “spreading” beyond Israel and Hamas than about defeating the Iran-directed threats.

There is no sign the White House is prepared to hold Iran accountable for what has already happened to innocent Israelis and Americans, amid increasingly troubling signs Iran’s future actions will also not trigger accountability.

Israel will continue inflicting significant damage to Hamas and other Iranian proxies, but the terrorists’ strategic masters in Tehran are escaping unharmed.

Biden’s rhetoric about Israel’s inherent right of self-defense is robust, and he has, so far, strongly supported increased aid.

But watch for his resolve to weaken under sustained assaults from the Democratic Party’s pro-Palestinian left wing, the international High Minded and the media.

Similarly, Biden and his advisers have taken a tough rhetorical line regarding strikes against Americans by Iran’s proxy forces across the region and moved two carrier battle groups to the eastern Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf.

Unfortunately, however, as with aiding Israel (the “little Satan” to Tehran’s mullahs), the White House is already underperforming in effectively protecting Americans (citizens of the “Great Satan”).

Biden’s rhetoric about preventing attacks on our people, regionally and worldwide, directly conflicts with what is really his highest Middle East priority: avoiding escalation of the Hamas-Israel conflict.

As a result, Biden’s red line of a strong, swift response to attacks on US military forces, foreign-service officers or just plain Americans is disappearing before our eyes.

Look closely enough, and you can still see it: filed right next to Barack Obama’s red line on the consequences for Syria if “we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

Governments, even the United States’, have very little leeway to draw and then ignore red lines before their credibility is shredded.

Biden is adding to the credibility gap Obama excavated, and to Donald Trump’s bluster and braggadocio that no one took seriously, leaving America’s reputation today in deep disarray.

Iran’s proxies have continued firing at US bases without retaliation, fortunately with only minor casualties recently.

(One US contractor died of cardiac arrest while sheltering during an alert.)

Undoubtedly, voices within the administration are advising the president not to respond because, after all, no Americans were killed or seriously wounded.

Why risk the conflict spreading or escalating?

The administration itself concedes that Hamas has prevented US citizens from leaving Gaza.

These Americans, and other foreigners denied exit, are effectively Hamas hostages, however much The New York Times and its ilk try to deny the reality. 

Some may be leaving shortly, but those remaining are merely bargaining chips for Hamas.

And US citizens are at risk not only in the Middle East but globally.

FBI Director Chris Wray has testified clearly that the terrorist threat here at home remains high because of Iran’s activities and those of its surrogates — but also from terrorists motivated by antisemitism or other extremist views.

The risk of terrorism is not confined to the United States either; it extends to allies like the United Kingdom, where authorities are carefully watching what Iran is up to.

Bluntly stated, however, this excessively cautious White House policy means it is simply waiting for Americans to die before it retaliates forcefully.

Such reluctance to act is supposedly buttressed by lack of evidence directly tying Iran to its proxies’ terrorism, the same excuse Biden has used since Oct. 7, trying to separate Iran from Hamas’ original barbarity.

This approach is mindless — evidence Iran is successfully deterring Biden, just as Russia has deterred him in Ukraine through fear of “escalation.”

They are laughing at Washington in Tehran and at Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthi and Iraqi Shia militia headquarters.

Iran shamelessly advocates the anti-American attacks, in effect claiming credit for them and mocking US weakness.

Almost no one in the Middle East has any doubt Tehran is responsible.

This is not only unacceptable but counterproductive even from Biden’s perspective.

At least 31 US citizens have been killed already and Hamas holds perhaps 13 hostage, in the latest counts.

Americans are at risk worldwide.

Instead of acting now to retaliate for what has already happened, and to act pre-emptively to deter future Iranian-directed terrorism, the White House is being intimidated by Iran.

It’s only a matter of time before we pay a terrible human price. Israel is often said to be “the canary in the coal mine” for America in the West.

Biden and his advisers aren’t listening, and Tehran knows it.

This article was first published in the New York Post on November 1, 2023.  Click Here to read the original article.