Plunge faster into the abyss

Dr. David Wurmser

As Israel approaches its sixth month at war with Hamas in Gaza, and likely nears another war on its northern border with Hezballah, the Biden administration continues to pursue a radically transformative regional agenda to seek rapprochement and strategic condominium with Iran and establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.  The main obstacle to this agenda, according to administration strategists, is not its dissonance with reality, but the irresponsibility and intransigence of Israel’s government.  To overcome this obstacle, thus, the administration has resumed interfering in domestic Israeli politics and intensified its efforts to destabilize an Israeli government it believes most threatens its ideological quest regionally. 

The administration seeks this ambitious agenda despite the attacks of October 7, which did little to dissuade it from its faith in the two anchoring objectives. It does so because the events reinforced its view of the importance of its informing paradigm — a truly post-colonial agenda animated by a progressive narrative (contrition over both the “interference” in Iranian affairs throughout the last century and over the dispossession of the Palestinian people as part of a larger global European oppression). Applying that self-excoriating paradigm, the administration’s cognoscente believe, will finally address the underlying grievances driving regional rage and resentment, and thus replace them with a condition of mutual strategic deference and respect between Washington and Tehran, both of whom tightly control their proxies.  

The Gaza war did nothing to dilute the administration’s obsession with this vision. Indeed, if anything, it reinforced the imperative, feasibility and urgency of advancing its two key mechanisms of its realization – establishing a Palestinian state and rapprochement with Iran’s Islamic regime.

Added to this urgency is that progressives have influenced and radicalized not only the administration’s policy, but also its domestic political understanding, strategy and operations. Progressives have intentionally peddled a climate of political despair for the entire Democratic party – without any real evidence — that is miraculously resolvable only by pandering to the most radical pro-Palestinian elements in Michigan in the run-up to the 2024 elections. 

The main obstacle they see to surmounting this electoral despair and attaining the messianic vision whose implementation would reunite the party with its progressive base, in their view, is the current obstinacy of the Israeli government.  And as a result of this conceptual box within which the administration has locked itself, the already-prioritized objective of ousting the Likud government in Israel has now intensified and risen to a perfect storm injected with steroids.

The problem is, the further this administration’s effort deepens, the more detrimental the immediate application of its ideological mission is to ousting the current government and then swaying Israeli politics in the longer term after the war.

The greatest influence which the United States exercises over Israel is the political woes of the left side of Israel’s spectrum. Ever since the election of Menachem Begin and his Likud party in 1977 — resulting from a tectonic realignment of Israeli politics crystallizing all the “outsiders” against the ossifying elite that had dominated the state since its founding – Israel’s left-leaning, Ashkenazi (European) -hyper-secular elites and the parties through which they exercise political power have faced declining prospects for electoral victories. In the last two decades, the only ability of the left to gain power was to align behind right-wing parties that bolted from personal loyalty to the current leader of the Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli structures in all sectors thus became increasingly distorted. Specifically, the more left-leaning elites have tried to reinforce their control over non-elected structures governing the state and society (military, judicial, financial, high-tech, societal, academic, press), as well as sought to expand the power of these structures over every aspect of life in order to maintain their control and “ownership” of Zionism.  The judicial reform upheaval that tore Israel to shreds in the year before the Gaza war erupted was a battle between the proponents of that long-term effort and the resulting backlash that had developed. And the post-war debate over the responsibility for the catastrophic failure of the war’s surprise, especially delineating who is to blame between the political (which was a right-leaning coalition) and military leadership and security elites (retired “LeSheavarim” or “formers” and current), almost immediately started fracturing along the same schism. The intensity of these debates marked just how far the right would go to finally challenge those structures and how far the left would go, even to the mat, to protect those institutions and its grip over them.  

Enter the American angle. Institutions, no matter how elite and entrenched, ultimately begin to yield to the pressure of aligning with the society from which they derive their power.  Left isolated, thus, the distortion of Israeli institutions would eventually align with the society in which it operates.  But the left in Israel is deeply invested in another layer of resilience.  It has successfully leveraged Israel’s international allies, and in particular the American relationship, to domestically overpower their more street-popular opposition.

The Israeli left has been able to do this largely because in as much as the international community had intervened in Israel traditionally, it was to advance a more left-leaning agenda. In the marketplace of politics in Israel, the world had the left’s back. 

But this whole structure is anchored ultimately to U.S. influence and dominance on both practical and intellectual levels. And it is also anchored to an international community – especially an American foreign policy establishment – that is largely homogenous in its outlook in viewing Israel’s left as more amenable to the pursuit of its agenda.  As such, Israel’s left became not only increasingly reliant on American support but also increasingly subordinate to American demands.  When administrations defined the U.S. national interest in ways roughly aligned with the interests as conceived by Israel’s left – even if it bent Israel to be dangerously dependent and more flexible than wise in things it normally would rather not be — that remained a powerful and even insurmountable alliance.  But if Washington departed from the interests of Israel’s left – especially under administrations that leaned more right – that investment drifted from essential to either useless or even detrimental.  

Back to the present.  Over time, the memory seared into the Israeli psyche on October 7 will melt into resumption of “normal” politics in Israel, and when that happens, some of the fissures in Israeli politics which raged before the war will return.  But the administration fails to grasp that moment is not yet here; the war in Gaza has not yet ended and the war in the north has not begun or even begun to be resolved.  And in this, the administration is essentially trying to prod Israel back to its pre-October 7 political atmosphere, crack the unity government and leverage the power of Israeli institutions to shift the political direction of Israeli society.

Moreover, even when the guns fall silent, there is no going back to October 6.  Israeli society has changed, and while polls suggest it holds the right-leaning government that was in power on October 7 responsible along with the military leadership, policy issues polls also suggest that the population has shifted sharply rightward. And the Israeli center-left – which had been aligned with Washington’s preferences for the last 30 years – has also shifted rightward as a result of the war at the same time this administration – under the sway of a radicalizing progressive agenda – has drifted leftward and is sharply abandoning its more liberal pro-Israeli agenda.  The gap then between Israel’s center-left and the Biden administration – which the latter fails to observe — is vast and growing.

This leads us to the current moment. For over a week, the Biden administration has encouraged the idea in Western press that this is “Netanyahu’s” war, that Israel cannot be allowed to enter the final towns and areas in Gaza still under Hamas control (Rafiah and the Philadelphia corridor), that a ceasefire and Palestinian statehood are both unattainable as long as the Likud prime minister remains in office and that absent a ceasefire the danger of escalation with Iran grows and the aspiration for regional stability through a rapprochement and strategic condominium with Tehran recedes.  So Netanyahu must go – and the chattering class of Washington has responded to echo that sentiment quickly.

The problem is that over the last week, it is clear this is not “Netanyahu’s” war. Israeli polls for example note that 73 % of Israelis support the IDF entering Rafiah and the Philadelphia corridor in Gaza, even if it means conflict with Egypt and the U.S. administration. Similar majorities want to continue fighting and reject a ceasefire until Israel has achieved full victory and destroyed all of Hamas in Gaza and brought the area under full Israeli control for the near term. Similarly, most Israelis see little hope in avoiding escalation against Hizballah in order to prevent the communities of the north becoming the next victims of an even more deadly repetition of the October 7 attacks as afflicted Israel in the south. And there is no measurable block of Israelis that holds any hope of coming to terms in any way, even in terms of a proper deterrence relationship, with Iran. 

In short, the Israeli people now see the Biden team’s self-assigned transformative regional mission to be existentially threatening and a grave danger to the very survival of the state and the safety of its citizens. Moreover, it is clear the center-left in Israel is aligned with the comparable polling blocks on these issues.  While there may be some marginal far-left parties and politicians that still cling to these views, the core of the center-left in Israel was sobered by the horrors of October 7 no less than the right of the spectrum.  As such, for example, despite the idea that PM Netanyahu is driving Israel to enter Rafiah, Benjamin Gantz, who leads the center-left party announced that there is no conceivable way in which Israel can avoid entering Rafiah and taking the rest of Gaza, nor is any currently floated form of a ceasefire agreement draft anything but a “non-starter.”

Added to this is that every public indicator also suggests that Israelis apportion the greatest blame for the national calamity which befell them on October 7 not only to specific parties or figures, but to the overall climate of fractionalization and bitterness that rendered Israeli society over the last year.  National unity at this moment is considered to be synonymous with national survival, and any actor disrupting  consensus or issue dividing the nation’s unity is rejected as a subject of address at this time. It is not an ideological view, but a practical one as well: the nation as a whole through mass mobilization of reserves is fighting, not just its regular army. To raise issues or trigger debate that can divide tank crews, elite units, combat squads and platoons, directly undermines the ability of the IDF to perform.  To break the nation’s unity and force through controversial “day after” policies and new elections now would be catastrophic in this regard.

In that context, any “day after” scenario such as Palestinian statehood, the splitting of the national unity government and the holding of elections, or even the idea of trying to leverage the desperate concern for the fate of the hostages against the imperative of absolute victory over Hamas is with disdain, disgust and determination profoundly rejected in public opinion.    

The Biden administration thus is making a parade of mistakes to emphasize its messianic progressive agenda now, in believing it has any Israeli following for its agenda, and in trying to split Israeli politics and use Israel’s dependence on American aid to oust the current government and stand up a new, more pliable one.  The administration is banking on its influence to cause a rift with Israel – with every day unveiling yet another form of crisis and break with Israel — in hopes it strengthens the left, weakens the prime minister and forces a new elections and government.

Instead, with every new crisis, and with every indication that the administration does not appreciate the deep wound suffered in the Israeli psyche to its very confidence of existence resulting from October 7, the Biden administration fails further.  Indeed, it is squandering immense credit it built in Israeli society after October 7 in its quest for a ceasefire, for protecting inflated forms of Palestinian humanitarian interests, for rejecting a war plan over which there is roughly a national consensus rather than nurturing its credit over the long run to further leverage it to seek a more modest vision in the post-war atmosphere. 

In the end, the very crises the administration embraces to try to weaken and oust the current government, the more the administration causes the U.S. to lose influence over Israel and erode the respect it holds within Israeli society. 

In the end, the administration will defeat itself.

Israel and Lebanon: Do cedars line the road to Tehran?

Dr. David Wurmser

U.S., French and British diplomats are burning the midnight oil to concoct a formula to avoid escalation of the fighting started by Hizballah along the Lebanese-Israeli border shortly after Hamas’ invasion into Israel from Gaza on October 7. It is indeed a volatile situation, and one which cannot simply fade out or smoothly slide into quiet. Israel has made clear it can neither accept a ceasefire in place along the northern border nor simply allow the current expanded border conflict to persist at the level it currently is fought. For Jerusalem, the realities on the ground require substantial change. 

Israelis — and indeed it is appropriate to speak of the people rather than just its government since polls suggest a powerful majority, nearing a consensus — understand that Hamas’ invasion was a smaller version of Hizballah’s plans on the northern border communities at the hands of Hizballah’s Radwan force. The Radwan force itself is the template upon which Hamas modelled its Nukhba force — the elite terror army that spearheaded the October 7 invasion.  

At the same time, also as a result of the catastrophe of October 7, Israel has learned that a defensive strategy alone – a border wall and missile defense — will not protect Israel from another deadly surprise attack. As a result, Hizballah’s very presence in southern Lebanon is now understood by Israel to be so dangerous that neither the current parameters of the border violence nor the status quo ante before October 7 are unsustainable, and escalation is only a matter of time. Thus, diplomats are scurrying feverishly not only to reach a ceasefire but also to convince Hizballah to redeploy its terror forces kilometers northward in order to answer Israel’s need for a sharply expanded buffer zone.

The last war in 2006 between Israel and Hizballah ended in a UN Security Resolution (UNSCR 1701). The resolution defined a 30-km wide buffer zone and an international force to enforce it. Sadly, neither the UN force (UNIFIL) created nor the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) ever enforced it, and Hizballah almost immediately drifted back to establish itself in full along Israel’s northern border.  Moreover, the UN resolution also called for Hizballah’s dismantlement and the demarcation of the Israeli-Lebanese border. Hizballah never disbanded, although the border Israel defined was acknowledged by UN surveys as the proper line.

Hizballah maintains this fiction of an unresolved border in order to justify its continued existence as a legitimate Lebanese faction defending Lebanese territory from an occupier, therein tying the legitimacy of its continued existence to the irresolution of the border.  As such, it persists in demanding the ceding of territory, some of which Israel has held since 1948, as part of the border modification.

If press reports are to be believed, the current formula crafted by diplomats – which Israel has neither accepted nor rejected — is an immediate ceasefire that within days enables the withdrawal of Hizballah forces to at least 10 km northward. The idea emerges from the Israeli tactical concern that the longest range anti-tank missiles which so deeply threaten Israeli communities can accurately hit targets 10 km away. Distancing Hizballah 10km also would obstruct the Radwan force’s ability to strike without detection since it must traverse a long distance before it even reaches the border.  To enforce the withdrawal, the Western powers suggest that a reinforced LAF deployment into the vacated areas can keep Hizballah out dependably enough to allay Israel’s concerns. Moreover, the currently reported ceasefire proposal by the West uses the term “border modification” rather than “border demarcation” – suggesting a subtle but important concession to Hizballah already. 

It is a bad deal. It should be rejected by Israel and abandoned by Western diplomats.

Were the West to actually succeed in reaching anything close to this proposed outline, it would not stabilize the region, but instead represent a catastrophic setback for Israel and the West and a missed strategic opportunity for the region. Moreover, its flaws are not only tactical and technical – as legion as those would be — nor even only the lacerating of principles.  Its greatest damage is the threat of missing a tremendous regional strategic opportunity to gravely, even mortally, wound the Iranian regime and damage its underlying reigning ideology. 

Tactically, the problem with Hizballah’s threat to communities is not just what comes from within 10km.  Short range missiles with devastating warheads (Burqan) are reasonably accurate and have slightly longer ranges.  The 30km range, as opposed to the 10km range is a material difference in terms of pushing a large part of Hizballah’s arsenal out of range of the cities of northern Israel.  Moreover, given the history of the LAF and UNIFIL’s complete incompetence in even monitoring, let alone halting, the Hizballah buildup in the south over the last two decades leaves little hope that they will actually meaningfully enforce the buffer zone.  More keystone cops do not increase performance.  This is especially true since the families of the Radwan force live in the southern areas of Lebanon, and thus can easily melt into the population all the way to the border without detection. In short, unless the buffer is much wider, and patrolled by forces Israel can rely upon to actually prevent the Radwan forces from infiltrating, then Israel is making once again the same mistake as in the south before October 7: the buffer is a defensive wall that can be breached – a wider one, but still the same concept that failed.  Israel needs positive control and to preserve preemptive maneuver in those areas.  And it cannot passively sit by watching its enemies build up, confident that its responsive capability will decisively and swiftly dispatch any threat that dared approach the border.  That confidence was shattered irreparably on October 7.

Currently, in terms of principles, the UN Resolution from 2006 (1701) establishes the foundation of removing Hizballah from the south for a far more expansive buffer zone then appears currently on the table.  That expansive buffer zone in the ceasefire agreement sought, as noted, a much narrower buffer. This is problematic.  Once the conviction of upholding that resolution is compromised, then every principle becomes negotiable. There is no “bottom.” Any line not only Israel, but the US and France draw then is considered flexible and open to barter. Moreover, it establishes precedent; ⁠Israel concedes yet more to get Hizballah to implement what it already committed to in the past. That “double payment” signals Israel is weak and the Wet is gullible.  Finally, settling for less than the terms of 1701 also validates that Hizballah’s 16-year violation of its obligations and its aggression paid off — it successfully used terror to get a better deal. 

All these tactical, technical and principled objections to the proposed deal are valid, and alone should cause not only Israel but Western powers, as well, to balk at further diplomacy. But it won’t since the West is inescapably locked into a paradigm of stabilizing the region through reaching a condominium with Iran, and the leashing by Tehran of its proxies. Escalation is the greatest fear, thus, of these diplomats and through their industriousness, imagination, and near messianic fervor — mixed with immense pressure on Israel to concede on points against its better judgment – will never give up on a deal, even a bad deal.  And it is precisely, thus, why one would imagine Hizballah would jump at the deal, leaving Israel in a very difficult position to say no.   

And yet, Hizballah balks.  It responds “no” to these proposals, which seems inexplicable given they are so advantageous and that Israel remains under such pressure to yield. Why? What calculations underlie its “Nyet”?

Ultimately, it is because Hizballah — and even more so Iran — need to control the population in the areas south of the Litani (Leontes) River but north of 10km for strategic reasons.  That is not only because the Radwan force is in some ways a territorial militia and its families live in that area, but because of two other reasons, both of which allow Hizballah no room for compromise.

First, Hizballah demands border modifications not only because it wants Israel to yield, thus affording it and Lebanon the opportunity to show strength and gain territory. It is because Hizballah needs to posit demands it knows Israel cannot accept. Indeed, were the border demarked to both Israel’s and Lebanon’s satisfaction, then Hizballah would lose its claim to be a Lebanese resistance organization fighting to restore lost Lebanese territory.  Under those circumstances, it would have to be disbanded immediately, not only under the terms of UNSCR 1701, but under two other UN resolutions from the same period as well.  Hizballah needs the border to remain unresolved so that territory can be claimed to be “occupied” illegally and thus its continued existence is never de-legitimized.

The second reason, which is the also the most important, is the imperative of breaking Hizballah’s grip on the population south of the Litani (Leontes) River (Jabal Amal), is also neither primarily a tactical (10, 12. or 20 km zone) objective or a principled reason (importance of upholding UNSC resolutions). It is because south Lebanon is a supremely important battleground in an ideological-theological warfare campaign waged regionally by Tehran which could just as easily be inverted and waged against the Iranian regime. It is really about the broader campaign of strategically defeating the current Iranian brand of revolutionary Shiism. 

The Shiite areas of southern Lebanon are the country’s Shiite heartland.  They are also one of the most important Shiite populations globally. It is where Ayatollah Musa al-Sadr initiated the Shiite Awakening in the 1970s.  As Fouad Ajami wrote in his most personal book, The Vanished Imam, al Sadr emerged from among the most established of the establishment Shiite families in Iraq and Iran, and transplanted himself to the most oppressed and impoverished community of Shiites, the Jebel Amal in southern Lebanon.  It was a backwater community which once a millennium ago was a leading center of Shiite learning. Laying in its graveyards are the luminaries of the 10th and 11th centuries that forged Shiism for the last millennium.  But time was unkind, and after Saladdin not only conquered Jerusalem, but aggressively ushered in an age of Sunni supremacy, this once vibrant center deteriorated into sparsely-populated and far-flung, sleepy villages on the sidelines of history – as indeed did much of the Shiite world.

One cannot thus imagine how electric and invigorating for the Shiite world it was to see this upstart Ayatollah, Musa al-Sadr, restore Lebanese Shiism into a political force and a rising community that lead the reversal of the millennium-long slumber of the entire Shiite community of the Middle East and became the cradle of restored Shiite confidence and relevance. He fathered the Shiite Awakening. It was the magical land at the magical moment led by this enthralling young Ayatollah. 

By the last year of the 1970s, al-Sadr, however, had engendered two main enemies: Yasir Arafat and Ayatollah Rouholla Khomeini. Arafat was threatened by al-Sadr and the Amal movement he founded, because Arafat was the embodiment of Arab nationalism, which had doubled as Sunni supremacy over Lebanon’s and Iraq’s Shiites. For the West, Arafat was about Palestine, but for Shiites, he was about Sunni oppression. Thus, the PLO, who saw the armed militia movement of Amal created by al-Sadr as a threat to Fatah-stan in late 1970s, had him killed in a visit to Libya. For our purposes, however, more important was that the murder was welcomed by Ayatollah Khomeini – although he never openly expressed joy, neither has Iran ever championed the cause of avenging al-Sadr’s demise. Khomeini was in the final stretch in the process of bringing down the Shah of Iran. For that, he needed help in organizing terror structure from Arafat (Mughniyah/ Force 17). But even more importantly, he needed Arafat to crush the Shiite Awakening whose mantle al-Sadr wore.  

Khomeini had his sights not only on Iran, but on Shiite leadership. It was both expansionist but also essential.  To turn Shiism into a powerful political tool of regional ambition, Khomeini had to crush all forms of Shiism that could challenge him. To do so, however, he aspired to take over and establish himself – dishonestly – as its founder and father of the Shiite Awakening.  Moreover, al-Sadr was a particular threat.  He was a highly respected clerical leader—a more traditional theologian and not a firebrand adventurer — who rejected the foundation of Iran’s revolutionary ideology and core principle of Valiyet e-Faqih or Rule of the Jurisprudent, which was a renegade Shiite minority view that established a theological totalitarian dictatorship. The new crowd in Tehran could not but be deeply threatened by the rancorous population of southern Lebanon and its more traditional view of Shiism, which has strong ties to Iraqi Shiite leaders too. In short, the Jabal Amal Shiites posed a theological dagger into Iran’s ideological heart regionally, not just in Lebanon, and thus al-Sadr’s murder was a welcome development. But it was not enough to remove the threat of al-Sadr; Lebanon’s Shiites were still not loyal, and the Amal organization established by al-Sadr remained the voice of those Shiites. Thus, positive control of Jebel Amal required establishing a completely subordinate proxy, Hizballah, to control Amal and the Shiites of Lebanon.  Hizballah’s existence, and its control over south Lebanon, was a strategic aim of existential importance to Khomeini upon taking office.  

Nothing has changed in this regard in the last 45 years. The governing theology of Iran remains this revolutionary, minority interpretation of Shiism rejected by most Shiite clerics. To control Lebanon’s Shiites, and especially to control Amal, which is the force that was created by Ayatollah Musa al-Sadr in the 1970s as the flagship of the Shiite Awakening, Iran needs as much now as ever to employ Hizballah to force Lebanon’s Shiites into submission. Amal likely would split from Iran if not subject to Hizballah control. Because Iran’s Valiyet e-Faqih theology and its Hizballahi minions are not only a minority view among Lebanon’s Shiites, but also represent a minority interpretation violating traditional Shiite thought among other regional Shiites, especially in southern Iraq, then how goes Jabal Amal can determine how goes Najaf and Karbala. And indeed, the same clerical families are in both: Musa al-Sadr’s relative is Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.  Thus, if those areas in Lebanon fall from Iran’s positive control, it ideologically rattles the regime in Iran and undermines it profoundly in Iraq since it would create not only an uncontrolled Shiite population influencing Iraqi Shiites, but also because it would have established Iran and Hizballah as failures in their self-anointed role as protector of Shiites.  

As such, the strategic imperative of delegitimizing Hizballah and laying waste to its theological foundations – which carries the conflict away from Israel’s borders which reverberates not only in Najaf and Karbala, but in Tehran itself — cannot be accomplished by a 10km buffer.  Nor through a 20km buffer. To remove the Jabal Amal Shiites from under Hizballah’s iron hand, Hizballah would need to lose control of the entire area not only up to and surrounding the Litani (Leontes) River, but even the Awali (Asclepius) River.

In the end, Iran needs Hizballah to exist not only to maintain an active front against Israel, but even more importantly to maintain control over south Lebanon’s Shiites who left to their own devices would likely emerge as a mortal threat to the ideological construct of the Iranian regime itself.  In other words, not only does Iran need the current diplomatic efforts to fail to prevent Hizballah’s being disbanded (but perhaps pared back north of the Litani River) as a strategic asset of Iranian power, but Tehran needs to prevent Hizballah’s withdrawal from the south as a matter of the Islamic Revolution’s own legitimacy and existence in Iran itself.  As such, even though to Western calculations, the ceasefire deal being offered is a deal too good to refuse, for Hizballah and Iran, it is a Trojan poison that must be refused.

The Gaza war and the conflict between Hizballah and Israel are regional strategic wars in a great twilight struggle between Iran and the West, not only between Iran and Israel.  It is imperative that the West, thus, switch from a passivity approach and hope of moderation in Tehran – the very concept that failed on October 7 – and turn to a more forward leaning strategy.  The West must allow Israel not only to properly defend itself, but to seize the rare confluent opportunity given us along with Israel to deal Iran’s revolutionary ideology a body blow, perhaps a fatal blow, rather than work to straight-jacket Israel and force it into validating Hizballah’s legitimacy, into allowing Hizballah to evince its strength and into relegating Lebanese Shiites to the clutches of this twisted Ghulat (extremist offshoot) of Shiism. 

The war in Jebel Amal – and the imperative of pushing Hizballah entirely out of Lebanon south of the Awali River (not only Litani) — thus is a major battle in taking the war into Tehran itself.

The New L’Affair Dreyfus: the Jewish Lesson for Zionists

Post Photo

By Dr. David Wurmser

The suit brought forward to the International Court of Justice by South Africa and backed by Jordan — claiming that Israel has committed war crimes and is conducting a genocide in its war against Hamas — is riddled with more holes than fabric. Most Western countries have backed Israel and dismissed the accusations as without foundation. 

Israel is accused of willfully engaging in the mass slaughter of innocents. And yet, virtually all objective military analysts in the West have outlined how Israel’s behavior in the conduct of this defensive war has been, in the context of the threat, exemplary.  It has followed all the rules of war, established humanitarian safe zones, given ample warning to evacuate legitimate military targets, and often forewarned and cancelled strikes that show signs of continuing to have civilians present.  Israel’s cautious tactics have cost them the lives of many soldiers. Compared to the tactics of any other military in the world, it has operated to the highest standards of humanity. 

Israel is accused of genocide – a crime defined after World War II in reaction to the slaughter of the Jewish people in the Holocaust by the Nazis. To forward this current claim against the Jewish people, South Africa has seized on a Biblical passage cited by Prime Minister Netanyahu in the early stages of the war on the Amalekites. While there is a passage in the Book of Samuel in the Bible that calls for erasing the seed of the Amalekites, that is not the passage quoted by Prime Minister Netanyahu. He quoted another verse from Deuteronomy, which not only does not call for the annihilation of the Amalekites, but it calls the Jewish people to remember those who commit genocide. It is such a powerful and apt verse that in is in fact enshrined on a plaque on the building of the very same International Court of Justice that now has brought suit against Israel. And in Kafkaesque inversion, it is Hamas – who is the real force behind this accusation through its alliance with South Africa’s ANC movement – that in words has trumpeted genocidal intent, in subversive networks has mobilized global antisemitism to threaten the survival of Jews, and in actions committed horrific war crimes as a down payment on its intent to not only kill all Jews, but do so in the most depraved and torturing manner, and then to erase the very legacy and history of the Jews’ peoplehood. Indeed, so spurious was the claim put forth by South Africa that it had to invent a new crime to justify squeezing the Jewish nation into it unsustainable accusation: domilicide – the destruction of houses so that people have no homes, amounting to an attempt to kill a people. Although Israel has not expelled any Palestinians from the territory, and indeed over decades of accelerating demographic growth under Israeli control, the idea that destroying structures in a war used for cover for terrorist tunneling is an Orwellian twisting of reality.

Israel is accused of imperial aggression. Israel had once controlled the entirety of the territory, but surrendered it all in order to be left alone.  There was a ceasefire in place. Israel allowed all non-military goods into Gaza, as well as funds from various sources. But Hamas, one day out of the blue, launched its murderous attack, after years of periodically and unilaterally ending previous ceasefires and launching lesser attacks. If Israel is accused of a war of imperialism, then this would be the first war of imperialism that was started by a “victim” given all the territory the Palestinians had claimed but which never was legally deeded to them to begin with (indeed, the territory has been deeded to Israel in the 1922 Mandate) but who repeatedly and consistently launched unprovoked, murderous waves of attacks.

Every aspect of this case before the International Court of Justice is thus a travesty.  And yet it proceeds, and the accusations against Israel have a reasonable chance of resulting in a verdict against Israel.

So what are we to make of this?  How can the unfolding of this episode even be possible? For that, we must look to history.

Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.  It has become the modern ideological form of attacking the Jewish people through the thinly veiled attempt to legitimize it by claiming it is only against Israeli evils. The veil is indeed more than thin; many of the advocates of anti-Zionism engage in rhetoric as well as attacks that fail to differentiate between Jews and Israel.  The Hamas charter calls for killing Jews, not Israelis, and the Palestinians refer to Israelis as al-Yahud, or “the Jew.”  Jews are attacked in Western cities for being Jews, and Jewish institutions and structures are vandalized in clearly antisemitic graffiti.  Swastikas have been used by Hamas, Palestinians, and Hitler’s war on the jews glorified by its supporters.  You do not need the IHRA definition of antisemitism to know that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

But if anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, then it is natural that Israel will eventually have its l’Affair Dreyfus. The Dreyfus affair was a trial in 1894 in France – seen at the time as one of the most enlightened and tolerant of nations in the world to its Jews – where a highly decorated Jewish war hero, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was accused of treason in passing state secrets to the Germans. There was no evidence for his guilt, and indeed, two years later, the real spy, Ferdinand Esterhazy, was caught, but he was quickly exonerated in order not to reverse the conviction of Dreyfus. Indeed, not only was he not acquitted, but a new show trial was organized against Dreyfus, where additional charges were brought and he was again convicted without evidence. So transparent was antisemitism involved in this trial and conviction that it resulted in a public scandal that convinced many Jews that they have no future in Europe.  One Jewish reporter there – an advocate of Jewish assimilation – was so shaken by the transparency of the antisemitism that he, Theodore Herzl, became convinced that there was no future for Jews any more in Europe and that they have only one hope for survival: a return to their homeland.

If Israel is the Jewish nation, then it is clear that Israel at the International Court of Justice now passes through its collective Dreyfus Affair.  Its innocence is immaterial, as it was for Dreyfus. The transparency of the accusations against it are irrelevant, as it was for Dreyfus. Its conviction is predetermined, as it was for Dreyfus.  But so too now are the lessons collectively learned from the Dreyfus Affair applicable to Israel today.

The Israelis have learned that every attempt they undertook to be accepted as other nations has failed.  Their obsession with assimilating as a nation in the community of nations as Herzl himself had originally believed Jews among other citizens should was futile. Every effort to act in exemplary ways to prove its worth as a people — as exemplary as was Dreyfus’ patriotism did not convert the “conditional” right to live into an inherent right.  No amount of objective evidence shielded him from false conviction.  Indeed, nothing Israel can do — neither hi-tech nor Nobel Prizes, neither reasonableness nor flexibility, neither inventions nor medical aid, earthquake and relief missions, neither self-restraint nor our hyper-morality in war  — will ever convince the community of antisemites that the Jewish people have a right like all others to be treated with respect and dignity and that as a people, they have an inherent right to exist and defend themselves as any other people. This is so because the hatred of the haters, the venom of the antisemites, is not based on either behavior or guilt, but on who the antisemites are and the darkness of their souls. Antisemitism is the handmaiden of evil.

The realization of that, and the understanding that only independence, agency and self-defense will protect Jews is the collective “Herzl moment” that Herzl personally had reached in 1899 after Dreyfus’ final conviction. Israel has now for over five decades abandoned the Zionist anchor to its strategic imagery. It has increasingly surrendered agency and independence in its strategic doctrine and convinced itself that it can be accepted as a normal nation by integrating into global collective defense as a highly responsible member of the international community.  It has displayed exemplary behavior in war and exercised self-restraint, employed deterrence and enhanced defensive measures rather than preemption, and embraced a reactive strategy rather than proactively suppressing threats. It has become largely reactive and self-restrained because it had hoped such passivity would shield it collectively from international ostracization and condemnation and more broadly win acceptance and legitimization.  In other words, Israel internalized the idea that its very existence was contingent on its behavior rather than inherent to its very being

But on October 7, 2023 – culminating in the trial at the International Court of Justice in the Hague – Israel has learned otherwise.  It was the victim of an unprovoked, genocidal onslaught for which it stands now accused. The murdered and raped stand now accused of murder and rape. The nation grieving and burying its babies and toddlers who were beheaded and baked in ovens alive by Hamas stands now accused of infanticide. 

The trial is more than unfounded; it is a twisted addition to the psychological warfare being waged and the dehumanization via vilification of the Jewish people as the embodiment of evil rather than its victim.

Have Israel’s elites truly digested that? They certainly realize the ICJ trial is a gross injustice – a twisted inversion of the truth. But it is unclear whether they have taken the next step and internalized the futility of further attempts to prove their (Dreyfus’) innocence by  reducing war aims, increasing humanitarian shipments, and employing extremely cautious tactics in dense urban warfare above and underground amidst a large civilian population turned into a vast human shield by Hamas.  It is true that rules of war in Judaism are surprisingly extensive, ancient in tradition, and quite limiting, and thus Israel has its own reasons to exercise such caution. And yet, have its elites digested that the purpose of such tactical restraint, strategic withdrawal or surrender of the claims and rights, if intended to convince others of how selfless and harmless they are, has not only failed but along the way instead tarnished among many the respect they had for Israel’s long-cultivated reputation of dogged adherence to conviction and self-reliance?  

In other words, does the Israeli security and political establishment have the gumption to say it has had enough, and that the criticism is so detached from either reality or morality that anyone saying it has no leverage any more?  Has Israel’s security elite and political establishment now truly returned to Herzl’s realization: while there are those in the world who agree and are Judeophilic — and are welcomed with warmth to help the Jewish people thrive another 4000 years – but as a people, they are done trying to prove the extraordinary, indeed unique value of themselves as Jews or as nation as a precondition for his right to live? 

Israel as a nation appears to have come to this conclusion.  The Israeli elites, however, as with elites everywhere, seem to be the last to figure it out.

The Fertile Crescent as the Arc of Conflict in the Israeli-Iranian twilight struggle

Post Photo

By Dr. David Wurmser

It has been about 8 hours since the series of air strikes against pro-Iranian militias across eastern Syria happened in almost a dozen locations, including Abu Kamal.

The US has at this point not claimed any involvement, which it usually does within a couple of hours of an action. So, it is unlikely the US was the attacker, despite accusations by some Syrians and Iraqis.

It is more likely that these strikes must be understood in the context of the impending outbreak of major war between Israel and Hizballah, as well as between Israel and pro-Iranian militias who are taking up positions in western Syria opposite the Golan Heights.

In recent days, there have been a constant din of reports that Hizballah had moved some of its forces to the Golan arena, and that Iran was conducting a crash supply program to get as much high-caliber and high-accuracy weaponry to the theater. Thus, the IRGC has accelerated the number of shipments by any route possible in recent days to Syria.

Israel already started responding to this by killing Sayid Reza Mousawi — the key coordinator of all IRGC activity in the Levant — early this week, and last night bombing Damascus airport several times over several hours. Saudi papers report a number (11 in fact) of very high-ranking IRGC officers were killed in those raids. Moreover, Israel’s chief military spokesman, Admiral Daniel Nagari, added yesterday (Thursday Dec 28) that Israel had escalated in recent days to damage significantly the Hizballah-Iran logistics structure.

It is thus quite possible that the context of the series of attacks on pro-Iranian militias is part of the Israeli effort to both prevent resupply of the Western Syria-Lebanon theater, as well as to preempt its reinforcement by more militias arriving from Iraq, Afghanistan or other areas serving as Iranian minions.

This also all occurs against a backdrop of a growing chorus of senior Israeli opinion setters — including former PM Bennett in an op-ed in the WSJ on Friday (Dec 29) — to escalate the war not only against the Iranian proxies already attacking Israel (Houthis, Hizballah, Iraqi pro-Iranian militias) but to attack Iran itself. There appears to be some debate still as to whether Israel should first deal with the proxies and then the regime of the Islamic Revolutionary Republic of Iran, or vice versa. Or whether that even matters since a serious attack on either will involve escalation with the other.

These voices seem further encouraged by disturbing reports coming from international inspectors about Iran’s acceleration and sharp expansion of nuclear enrichment activities. The breadth of those activities and the amounts it appears to be enriching suggest Iran is moving toward a strategic nuclear breakout not by crossing the threshold with a single device, but to cross it at once with a small arsenal of devices.

Taken together, it is clear that Israel has entered — still modestly but increasingly wholeheartedly — into the acute phase of its twilight struggle with Iran itself.

The war launched by Iran’s axis thus started in Gaza in Israel’s backyard, but it is slowly coming home to Iran’s front doorstep delivered by the Israeli Defense Forces.

The Long War of Strategy in the Middle East

Post Photo

By Dr. David Wurmser

The United States and Israel disagree about who will rule Gaza in the “day after” scenario. The United States seeks to install a refurbished Palestinian Authority and proceed happily toward a two-state solution. Israel’s “day after” plan is unclear and may not yet even have crystallized. It is difficult, thus, to comment on Israel’s approach, but one thing is certain: the plan to rehabilitate the Palestinian Authority as a government will fail.  And neither for the commonly understood reasons of its unpopularity and incompetence born of corruption nor for its inability to rise above its terror pedigree. It is because the very idea of the Palestinian Authority as a solution to the Hamas challenge is based on concepts divorced from a Middle Eastern context.

To understand the problem with our approach, we must begin with our bafflement over why deterrence failed and Hamas even started this war.  Moreover, why does Hamas still think it is winning? Why did it invite its own destruction and why does it not see it as its own destruction?

One of the greatest barriers Westerners have in understanding the region is our deep appreciation for structures and words as institutions.  In the West, institutions have a life of their own, and the possessors of office – a tangible concept in the West – are merely trustees.  A leader or office-holder is only a steward of a trust whose job is to protect the interests of the trust. It is not about him; he will be judged entirely on whether he strengthened or damaged the stature and well-being of the institution during his stewardship. As Westerners we place great faith in the solidity of structures and words as institutions.

But such solidity does not exist in the Middle East. Institutions are extensions of personal relationships. They lack a life of their own. Even on issues of succession in government, arrangements perish with the ruler.  When the founding prophet of Islam, Muhammad, died, the tribes met in Mecca to name a replacement, whom they did – Abu Bakr in 632 AD.  And yet, despite the “office” of leader’s having passed to Abu Bakr, he was promptly confronted with challenges, even war, by many of those who ostensibly supported him. The pledged unity of the various factions and tribes to Muhammad and the community of Islam melted away.

In the Western mind, this could be understood as treachery. Promises and pledges are institutions and have a life of their own. Violating them betrayed the institution and the sanctity of words.  But in the Middle East, such institutions and pledges are intensely personal and are meaningless in a structural or verbal sense.  While Abu Bakr may have acquired something akin to our concept of “office holder,” as well as might have expected to enjoy adherence to the world of pledges given by the followers of Islam, in fact, his ascent only marked the beginning of negotiations – even violently executed ones – to redefine, rebalance  and validate in a specific personal relationship to Abu Bakr the institution (alliance, unified community) as well as the promises and pledges that had been already agreed upon before with Muhammad. The cycle restarted.

Because of this, in the Middle East institutions have heft only in as much as they are extensions of a powerful person, clan or tribe, or reflect that power’s relationship with other powerful forces. Structures and pledges as institutions, thus, pass through endless rounds of redefinition, reconstitution and even collapse.

So, what does this have to do with the American “day after” proposal, let alone how does it explain to us why Hamas does not believe it is losing? In the Middle East, since nothing is institutionalized with solidity, strategy is not about establishing structures, mile markers, way-stations or anchors. It is instead about affecting realities from cycle to cycle. Those Western instruments transcend the current and acquire a permanence as a building block in an accruing structure.  But in the region, states and institutions are temporary arrangements. They reflect the momentary power of operating forces, personal or factional power. They are neither ends in themselves nor endowed with any concept of solidity as understood in the West.

So, Hamas does not, nor ever will, care about building Gaza.  To the West, Gaza is an entity or even an institution of a proto-state and thus Hamas loses any authenticity, following or right to rule because of its deep betrayal – self-destruction — of its charge. But that is not how Hamas sees it.  Hamas views Gaza as a mere stepping stone on a path to take over the world, as even its leadership has bluntly said in recent weeks. Neither does Hamas care about the Palestinian Authority for the same reasons.

The only importance of these statelets or institutions is if they are reshaped through each round to reflect Hamas’ refined relationship to the Islamic world. Hamas does not have a “contract” with the people who are subject to its power; it has a commitment to the Islamic community on the terms with which it personally negotiates them.  Since no Caliph or sitting “leader” of the Islamic world exists, that personal relationship is defined in terms of its popular currency (essentially tribally defined leadership by manifesting the sense of power needed for a tribe to survive) as well as in advancing the ideals of Islam (doctrinally-defined leadership within the Muslim community).  In this sense, both Gaza and the Palestinian Authority are meaningless. And since the structure is meaningless, so too is their destruction equally meaningless. And because the structures and their destruction are meaningless, victory and defeat of Hamas cannot be defined in terms of those concepts.

Thus, strategy for Hamas is not a plan progressing along a roadmap to seize meaningless structures. It is instead a relentless journey to navigate its personal relationships with the Muslim world as part of a deeper negotiation through endless cycles of building, leveraging and destroying temporal structures – often defined around cycles of interaction with the enemy – just like Abu Bakr had to do. And while Hamas never loses focus on the rest of the Islamic community as the only relationship that matters, its stature is established in part, as have many other Muslim rulers through the ages, through the language of its interactions with the enemy.

So, the destruction of Hamas, as we would define it, might end this immediate cycle of combat in the specific area of Gaza. And yet, the construction of new structures and pledges of fidelity to that structure will not lead to the sort of material advance that we expect.  It will not bring us progress along an arc toward a permanent resolution. Namely even if fantasies were realized in a functional Palestinian Authority, it will deliver a permanent victory over neither Hamas nor the underlying idea of it, let alone the sort of politics animating it. No “Palestinian Authority,” not even the concept of it — derived as it is from Western concepts of institutions — will ever serve as an obstacle to Hamas’ strategy derived as it is from Middle Eastern imagery. 

Both Israel and the West are in a long civilizational war with Hamas or its successor – perhaps even a perpetual war – and there will be a successor.  And since Islamic civilizations will not disappear, and since the West and Israel also have regional relationships – many of which are both amicable and vital – within that civilization, we must begin to think of strategic aims in those terms.  Namely strategy is about muddling and navigating perpetual rounds of interaction in which the West and Israel negotiate and renegotiate their stature based on personal connection (amical or inimical alike) and power in relationship to the other forces in the neighborhood. 

As hard as it is for us – a difficulty of which I am painfully aware given that I was trained in classic Western concepts of strategy — we cannot think of strategic goals in traditional terms. Strategy in the region is not the consequence of a crisply defined plan within the framework of a bounded episode that culminates in agreements (or even a final victory) that codify and govern a new, permanent reality around which institutions or pledges acquire solidity. It is a never-ending journey. 

And since Israel’s very history is itself a tale of muddling through a never-ending journey of threat and challenge — and a long history of constant change where empires rose and fell, and institutions all came and went — and because in Judaism great issues are examined and debated, but never fully resolved, in Talmudic fashion, Israel may be culturally more adaptable to navigating properly through the region than the West more broadly.

Still, under regional civilizational concepts, our employing terms like “Palestinian state,” “Palestinian Authority,” “two-states,” and “solving the Palestinian problem” only drive home how alien we are to that part of the world, and how naïve and clueless we appear to its inhabitants – and thus our failure is baked into the very DNA of our concept.  And perhaps the gap between the United States and Israel regarding the “day after” emerges from the subtle realization at which Israel may be arriving, if even without being aware of it, as it moves from the very Western “Oslo” seek-a-structural-solution paradigm to a paradigm that emanates from Israel’s contemplating and reverting into its own Jewish history.

In the end, to defeat Hamas not only as a faction, but as an idea, both Israel and the West need to learn how to speak in the political and strategic language of the region’s culture.

An Offer Israel Cannot but Refuse: the Brewing Lebanon Deal

Post Photo

By Dr. David Wurmser

A US plan, spearheaded by the diplomatic efforts of the US, and led by Amos Hochstein (who negotiated the Lebanon Maritime Agreement) and the French government, is emerging to diffuse tension along Israel’s northern border.  The US and France appear to propose a plan with three elements. Hizballah withdraws its forces northward.  Israel concedes all the disputed areas along the border. And finally, the area between Israel and Hizballah will be filled by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). 

Hizballah has been in violation of UNSCR 1701 — the resolution that terminated the 2006 Second Lebanon War — since its signing. Resolution 1701 called for the “full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.”  Moreover, the resolution said all foreign forces are prohibited, such as IRGC, Hamas or other Palestinian factions, or Iraqi militias. Israel left in 2006, so it has been in compliance ever since. Also, the area south of the Litani River will be policed by the LAF and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). In many ways, the US proposal only asks of Hizballah to implement one part of UNSCRs 1701 and completely ignores 1559 and 1680. This itself constitutes a major victory for Hizballah since it validates the annulment of the critical obligations of all three resolutions that render Hizballah an illegal militia altogether — all in order to ask of Hizballah to abide by one part of 1701 which it violated as Israel withdrew from the area under 1701.

Second, the three UNSCRs — to ensure that Israel had indeed withdrawn from all Lebanese territory and thus deny Hizballah’s anticipated claim of being a Lebanese nationalist resistance to continued Israeli occupation — established a mechanism to demarcate the border and validate the “blue line” which had been set in 2000. Such a demarcation was completed shortly thereafter and the border runs along that line.  Moreover, careful examination of UN demarcation maps since World War I established that the village of Ghajar had been part of Syrian Golan, and thus, part now of the Israeli Golan Heights, not Lebanon. In short, there actually is no real disputed territory because of either un-demarcated or unclear borders. They are disputed only because Hizballah raised spurious claims. 

And yet, under the plan proposed by the US and France, Hizballah is rewarded — and its resistance validated and continued existence as an armed militia legitimized — by a full Israeli withdrawal in all of the areas (Kfar Shouba, Sheba Farms and Ghajar) in addition to other disputed parcels. Essentially by conceding these lands as Lebanese retroactively sanctioned Hizballah’s existence because ostensibly the US and France (and Israel, if it agrees) will now have admitted that Israel continued to occupy Lebanese territory. In other words, Israel becomes the party responsible for Hizballah’s failure to disarm as required by UNSCRs 1559, 1680 and 1701, because Hizballah was a Lebanese faction conducting resistance against occupation of Lebanese land.

The US and France have also proposed under this agreement that the LAF secures the border and the buffer zone south of the Litani River.  Indeed, UNSCR 1701 had called for that, but it has long been proven to be an entirely dysfunctional fiction as a sovereign force. It cannot in any way cross Hizballah, and to believe it can going forward is simply delusional. The historical record only shows it has functioned until now as cover and human shield for Hizballah presence despite the vast sums of money, equipment and training that have been given to LAF by the US (an aid activity which is coming under increased scrutiny in the US Congress). The LAF has simply  for decades been controlled fully by or cowered into subservience to Hizballah.

So why is the US doing this? 

The US is in fact determined not only to avoid escalation on the Lebanese border, but also to avoid any Israel escalation against Iranian proxies anywhere.  For example, the US has warned Israel to stop attacking Yemen since “it could provoke Iran,” wherein a very odd situation now exists whereby American warships and international sea lines of communication (SLOCs) are attacked, and only Israel appears to be responding  to the attacks on the US warship and SLOCs.

This is part of a broader attempt by the US to burrow more deeply into the paradigm it nurtured prior to October 7 regarding Iran. At its core, it is an attempt to appease Iran by handing it major strategic victories. The paradigm itself allows the US to still seek through some combination of pressure and incentives to harness Iran, validate its “moderates,” and reach a regional understanding that can stabilize the Middle East. Essentially, it highlights that the US continues to operate toward Tehran under the Robert Malley doctrine, under which the United States still believes that there are moderates in structures of power in Iran who, with proper modulation of US policy — specifically that showing understanding and restraint rather than backing Iran against the wall, which is what “hardliners” would want — will have their fortunes so vastly improved that their common interest with the United States can be cultivated and a common understanding reached to stabilize not only Iran’s nuclear program, but its policies to such an extent that Iran becomes a partner for regional stability.

Israeli indulgence of these diplomatic discussions might be an attempt to set the stage for a war rather than reflect a genuine belief that this would lead to anything — especially were Israel to stand firm in rejecting the strategically devastating concessions demanded of it to secure Hizballah partial compliance with UNSCRs to which it already is obliged to comply.

Moreover, Hizballah likely will not accept it either. While it would be an Israeli humiliation for it to be accepted, that Hizballah withdraws voluntarily under Israeli threat would be yet another point of humiliation for Hizballah too. Neither Iran nor Hizballah care about these little pieces of land nor do they build too much on the idea that Israel’s humiliation by yielding them outweighs their humiliation of the last seven weeks of restrained intervention, two meager speeches of Nasrallah, and withdrawal operationally from territories south of the Litani without a fight. They are already ridiculed regionally.

Iran right now needs the area south of the Litani more than ever to shift the remains of Hamas over there to continue the war.  In short, they can in no way accept a buffer zone that will take a year or two to infiltrate and establish a Hamas presence and Hizballah reasserted presence. And they need to end this war right up against Israeli lines to get in the last shots to signal that they continue fighting the resistance.

The US and France are pushing for an agreement to avoid escalation on Israel’s northern border which must be understood in effect as part of a larger effort to appease  Iran on substance and strategy while giving Israel hollow tactical scraps.  It is a deal Israel must refuse.

Clarifying US relations with Israel

Post Photo

By Dr. David Wurmser

The United States explained the purpose of Kamala Harris’ trip this week to Dubai. Among the points were that the US will have conversations with Israel to “shape the next phase of the war” in Gaza. While this is clearly further pressure on Israel to avoid greater civilian casualties – a reasonable but unnecessary request since Israel has already gone to impossible lengths to protect Palestinian civilians — it is also suggests how the US expects to leverage the course of this war to affect post-war outcome.

There has been confusion regarding the nature of American support for Israel. It was the consensus in Israel in the first weeks that the United States under the Biden team had two common goals: remove Hamas and help Israel focus on the south and avoid a two-front war immediately. True enough. But Israelis of all stripes projected their hopes further and welcomed the impression that the US now “gets it” the same way as has been seared into Israel’s soul through the horror of October 7. Not only that Washington “switched its diskette” on Hamas, but on Palestinians, Hizballah and Iran. As such, American actions — including moving carrier battle groups and reinforcing US bases region-wide — were assumed first to be support on helping Israel survive initial attack and second to adopt a muscular, if not even threatening policy on Iran.  In essence, Israelis believed that Israel and the US were traveling along the same line, or at least two closely tracking parallel lines.

The problem is they are not.

The United States and Israel travel on intersecting and not parallel lines. The distinction is important. Parallel lines never touch, but they always run together. Intersecting lines on the other hand, converge at one point but eternally diverge afterwards. The point of convergence between the United States and Israel has now yielded to the inevitable divergence, and the strategic implications could not be graver. Moreover, the vast chasm emerging is both on the issue of Palestinians and the larger threat of Iran. 

The divergence is most evident through the increasing tone of statements coming from Washington about how to “shape” this war.  There is a tension — strategic and moral –between a war narrowly focused on defeating Hamas and extending the Palestinian Authority, and a broader strategic war to change Israeli security on every border let alone advance a regional defeat of Iran and its proxies, which remain the ultimate source of the problem.

Israel’s population has undergone a traumatic paradigm shift. It fights this war informed by a broader and grounded understanding of the region and its dynamics that unfortunately indicts policy on the region that both Jerusalem and Washington had indulged for the last thirty years. Washington, however, proceeds as if nothing has changed. It remains in paradigmatic stasis. It still labors under the delusion that the exit to all this is a combination of some sort of Oslo 2.0 and JCPOA 2.0 (Iran deal).  Hence its engagement with Abu Mazen and its cultivated restraint and lack of meaningful responses to nearly 80 attacks on US bases across the region and regional attacks by Iran’s proxies from Yemen to Iraq.

Because the US now focuses on “the day after” plans for Gaza, and because Secretary Blinken reportedly demanded that Israel not expand the geographic parameters of the war, it has essentially made support for Israel conditional — specifically as long as the goal of the war remains laser-focused on the removal of Hamas to facilitate restoring Palestinian Authority (PA) control over Gaza.  

Stripped of all the noise, essentially this is less support for Israel than support for the Palestinian Authority via Israel, while ignoring Hizballah and Iran.  The US is using this war — and all Israel’s sacrifice — to revive Oslo by making Palestine safe for Abu Mazen.

For the US, this is a war to save a paradigm in Washington. For Israel, it is a war for survival against a vast Iranian threat and Palestinian irridentism. As long as the United States fails to appreciate the war in this context, then it bodes ill about the future of Israeli American relations.

Or does it?

In my many years as a senior US official dealing with Israeli officials, it always struck me that they regard State Department corridor messages as the definitive word on US policy for Israel. Yet, Americans strongly support Israel. Congressional support is strong and growing. No President can afford to abandon Israel as long as the American people view it as a close ally fighting darkness. The belief Israel is acting fiercely to defend its independence and freedom — alone if necessary – taps into classic American imagination in popular culture as the epic hero. The irony missed often by Israelis is that the more they act in deference to the State Department, the more they damage their brand in the American public’s psyche, and the more they surrender popular support now and affinity in the long run.

The President does have a problem with progressives’ pressure to confront Israel. As long as Israel defers to American demands, it yields the field to progressives to dominate cost-free. If however, this president is forced to choose, the Democratic leadership understands that the party will lose swing districts in the 2024 Congressional elections as well as possibly the White House. Progressives cannot deliver the floating center of American politics. They have nowhere else to go; centrist liberals do.  

As such, Israeli deference is self-defeating. Israel suffers self-deterrence.

The stakes could not be higher. Israel must decisively win this war, secure its citizenry country-wide, strategically devastate Iran’s regional reputation, and establish Israel as a powerful regional actor. The viability of the state depends on it.

Short-circuiting Iran’s Strategy in the Black Sabbath War

Post Photo

By Dr. David Wurmser

The current war between Israel and Hamas is not an Israeli-Palestinian issue, nor should its goals be only the removal of Hamas from power. The Palestinian issue is certainly an aspect of the conflict.  But this is a regional strategic event. It is a major episode in the twilight struggle between Iran and Israel – indeed between the US-oriented regional bloc and the Russian-Chinese oriented bloc — and not a localized conflict between Israel and an errant terror group.

From what is emerging, Hamas did anticipate the withering, catastrophic Israeli response to what it did on October 7. But it still proceeded. While that appears to us as suicidal, it is not. Hamas appreciated that it had reached its strategic zenith in Gaza and needed to carry its center of power and the war to the West Bank and thus deems Gaza expendable – as its leadership has said since the attack. Moreover, it is equally important to understand that Hamas appreciates that its local power to achieve that transfer is derivative of the overall consequence of the strategic rise and initiative of Iran. As a suicide bomber seeks to advance its cause, or a Kamikaze squadron understands its role is to advance the nation, and not just itself, so too did Hamas understand that it had to sacrifice itself in Gaza to advance the larger strategic interests of its camp to secure ultimately victory.

And since a suicide bomber or Kamikaze squadron cannot be deterred since any calculation of self-interest is annulled, so too Hamas could not be deterred based on local calculations of interest upon which Israel’s intelligence based its estimates. The error of Israeli intelligence, thus, was that it supposed such decisions about war and calm came only from Gaza. They didn’t. They came from Tehran. Perhaps the timing was Hamas’, and there are signs it was launched prematurely, but the strategy is Tehran’s. Any discussions of Iran’s operational role in ordering this attack at this time are irrelevant. Iran built and prepared Hamas to advance the larger strategic message across the region — especially to those who were forming a regional alliance and beginning to build strategic momentum against Iran — that Israel’s stature as a viable state, let alone as a rising, regional power, is an illusion.  Israel has recovered from its initial shock and on its way to victory in Gaza. But to reclaim the region’s strategic momentum and regain the initiative for the Western-allied bloc of which it was stripped on October 7, such a victory is insufficient, and was even anticipated by Iran and Hamas, both of whom understood this strategic conflict will not be won there by either side. While Israel must not only retain its current resolve in Gaza, it must also transfer that determination to areas that represent Iran’s core strategic stature in the region. And that is Hizballah and Syria. Thus, to win not only a tactical victory against Hamas in Gaza, Israel must win a strategic victory against Iran by hitting its core proxies to the north as well. 

Iran fears that if Israel indeed accomplishes such a strategic reversal, it can reverberate and threaten the regime in Tehran. Totalitarian regimes project stability, but in truth they have little ability to absorb ideological shocks and setbacks without it rattling their ideological core and confidence. To avert disaster, Tehran thus needs to escalate its attempt to maintain the strategic initiative, at the core of which is securing the narrative that Israel is weak.

In this context, and perhaps at first seemingly contradictory, Iran’s objective is ironically to draw the US into the conflict more directly. 

Tehran remains confident that any US response will be punitive, measured and symbolic and not strategic. It has been given no reason to believe that the US has, or will, undergo the sort of paradigm shift as Israel now appears to be undergoing, and thus Washington will not abandon its attempt either to reach a regional understanding with Iran. Indeed, Iran reads every statement of warning from Washington to reassert US deterrence as an indication the United States is still playing by the rules Iran manipulates. Iran cannot deal with chaos and unpredictability, since a strategy of manipulation implies one anticipates and thus navigates to control one’s opponent’s soul and behavior. Because it believes America will not break established rules and act unpredictably – especially that America will not fundamentally shift the paradigm and will not conclude it must work to collapse, rather than come to terms with, the Iranian regime — Iran is confident it can leverage and manipulate any US reaction to its advantage. As such, Tehran feels it can safely risk limited US intervention.

Since the point of the attack on October 7 was to wound and humiliate Israel so painfully that it punctures the hope of Abraham Accord countries and Saudi Arabia that Israel can be a regional strong horse to which to attach their fortunes, then it became imperative for Iran to set the narrative that Israel is no more than a collapsing “spider web.” Iran knew images of dead and fleeing Israelis – the same images that so horrified Israelis and Westerners animated those in the region — projected Israeli weakness. It is precisely in this context, that US promises of intervening to help Israel were gleefully amplified in the Iranian press because they confirm that Israel was damaged so profoundly that it could no longer defend itself alone.

But now Israel is reunifying and threatening to go on a strategic rampage against Iran’s core proxy, Hizballah, and perhaps Syria which threatens to reverse and even obliterate the narrative of strategic momentum of a retreating/collapsing Israel and advancing Iran. And to do so alone. So Iran now must now craft a new narrative: that Israel was indeed — and remains — so weak that America must intervene actively and directly to save it. And that Americans now will have to be sacrificed to save the Jewish state in its non-viable weakness.  Namely, it needs to establish that Israel has become such a limping albatross that it is a drains the US rather than being a regional strong horse anchoring Western power.  

So important is it to Iran to establish this narrative, that they are inventing evidence to validate it. For example, Iranian government officials plant the story that a week after the visit by President Biden to Israel in mid-October, Israel transferred control over its nuclear program to the United States since Israel is collapsing and in the ensuing chaos it will either lose the nuclear asset to Iran and the Palestinians or use it. And as we have seen over the last few weeks, Iran has a substantial echo chamber in the West.

It is in this context that one must understand Nasrallah’s, Iran’s, and Hamas’ statements that they underestimated the US assistance to Israel. This is not an admission of miscalculation, but a manipulative statement. It is not genuine reflection, but an attempt to establish the fiction that the US is directly intervening because Israel remains too weak to do this alone. Through inconclusive American intervention, Iran seeks to paint a strategic narrative establishing Iran as strategically ascendent and Israel and the Abraham countries in a despairing, flailing retreat.

But for that narrative to work, they need to get America to intervene just enough to make it look like an American war, but not enough to provoke America to shift strategically. Iran’s aim is eventually to push Washington to revert to Iran to seek a regional arrangement to calm down the area — i.e., an expanded JCPOA 2.0.  

Iran is counting on the US also to split with Israel and seek to impose an Oslo 2.0 — namely to go back to Abu Mazen to rehabilitate the two-state idea and give him Gaza. Iran is right. The current administration in Washington still sees this a localized Hamas-Israel conflict and retreats into the pre-October 7 paradigm: redouble efforts to make a success the policies pursued before October 7 – a two state solution crafted around a rehabilitated Palestinian Authority. The ancient Greeks understood in their tales that those whom the gods seek to destroy, they first drive crazy by prodding the tragic figure into ill-conceived determination to redouble his same efforts while losing sight of his goals.

Iran expects that will isolate Israel, keeps Jerusalem from fully reversing the weakness of being initially wounded, perhaps even have the United States restrain Israel enough to prevent them from addressing the threat from Hizballah to the north, and through all this to thus maintain for Tehran the regional momentum of being in strategic ascendency. It correctly estimates that the United States fails at this stage still to appreciate that strong Israeli action against Iran’s regional strategic foundations in Lebanon and Syria signal that Israel fully understands it is now in a twilight struggle to seize the regional strategic momentum, and that Jerusalem will prosecute that struggle confidently and bring the war bearing down away from Israel and into Tehran itself.

But this, in fact, may be a blessing in disguise. If at the core of Iranian strategy is to portray Israel as fatally wounded and liming to its demise, saved only by US power, then having Israel – not US power – deliver a catastrophic strategic blow alone sends a critical message all in the region reasserting not only its viability, but its rising rather than eroding power.  That Israel must do this without a US green light actually strengthens the impact of this message regionally. 

But eventually, the United States will awake and realize Iran’s strategic campaign is only part of the larger sleepless malice (to pilfer from Tolkien’s The Hobbit) that stretches from Pyongyang to Caracas, passing through Beijing, Moscow, Sanaa and Algiers, which now stirs. Eventually, Washington will abandon the twin shibbolets of Oslo 2.0 and JCPOA 2.0 and shift the paradigm to focusing on helping the Iranian people bring the nightmare of their regime to its demise. Until then, it is imperative for Israel now to seize the strategic initiative regionally to deliver not only for itself, but for Washington a great victory against its better judgment.

It is a great but unavoidable burden for Israel to do this initially without an American green light. But at the same time, there is yet another irony in this situation. Israel will actually secure greater support in the long term by acting with such strength and strategic purpose regionally. Israel will eventually win great American support since it establishes Israel as the key pillar of the Western alliance in the region – which ultimately reduces the need for constant American power being projected there as it needs to refocus on Asia and Europe. Also, when Arab nations see Israel as the strong horse, they will make peace, which further secures regional acceptance and eases Arabist pressures on America.

But most importantly, Americans have always seen in Israel an image of themselves, and at the core of that brand was that Israel stood on its own legs always to defend itself by itself – just as Americans always have. For Americans, anyone that fights for what he believes in, even if he must fight alone, is someone worth fighting for and aligning oneself with. As such, a confident and self-reliantly victorious Israel will also tap again into America’s recently eroding imagination of Israel’s being a tough, independent-minded and principled nation onto which America can once again – as after 1967 and Entebbe — project its own image of itself.  

Because we don’t get Iran, we don’t understand what is happening 

Post Photo

By David Wurmser

Various senior intelligence sources in Israel over the last weeks have suggested in public that they assess the upheaval in Iran to be serious, perhaps even profoundly altering of Iran’s behavior, but in the end, that they “do not see that the regime is in danger.”2 This Israeli assessment follows weeks of private signaling from the United States that it also did not believe Iran’s regime would fall. That this was indeed the US assessment was publicly confirmed by CIA director William Burns during his with PBS’s Judy Woodruff. 3  Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence, added: “”We’re not seeing the regime perceive this as an imminent threat to their stability and effect,”4 

The reasons for arriving at such pessimism on regime change that Israeli intelligence has given also parallels those filtering out of US governmental discussions as well: lack of centralized opposition leadership; lack of funds, and lack of internal regime defections. A revolution, they assert, needs those conditions to succeed. So it appears that Israel’s assessment reflects Israel’s increasing proclivity to defer to American judgments on the region. 

Apart from the rather unusual nature of such public intelligence assessments, these statements by Israel and the US are demoralizing to Iranians, hand the Iranian regime an unnecessary boost of confidence and squander somewhat the potential for a post-Ayatollah Iranian-Israeli rapprochement. 

So what are we to make of these statements? Are they even right? 

Israel’s intelligence structures are storied, and deservedly so. Only the passage of time will allow for the full unveiling of what Israel’s shadow services have done to understand, follow and comprehend the full nature of the Iranian threat, as well as to sabotage it. Fleeting episodes of assassinations, mysterious work accidents, and occasional top-secret archival transplantations to Israel suggest the parameters, depth and professionalism of penetration of Iran which the Israeli security structure has managed. From personal experience, while it is still classified, suffice it to say in general that the understanding of Israel’s intelligence about Iran has surpassed that of any other country’s already two decades ago.  Nobody else holds a candle to them. As such, it is with great deference and trepidation that one would dismiss their estimates.   

And yet, on the case of Iran’s potential regime collapse, it would be wise not to accept the estimates of the intelligence community as the definitive word. Indeed, on this specific question, there is no reason to believe that either Israeli or US intelligence – from which Israel’s intelligence seems to have derived its assessment — has a particularly superior insight that justifies uncritical acceptance. 

The advantage of an intelligence structure is its access both to vast information, some of which is invisible to the general public, as well as to governmental data management structures that allow for powerful substantive searches or even artificial intelligence assisted analyses.  And yet, assessments on this level of perspective must by their nature be grounded first and foremost in a strong appreciation for the context of culture, ideas and exposure to broad swaths of society – all areas in which an intelligence structure has no particular advantage.  When it comes to broader questions such as strategic interpretation and political trends, students of history (who rely on appreciating the patterns and character of culture), political theorists (who examine political systems over millennia),  and those present on the ground (inhabitants, foreigners such as journalists) have as good a sense of the context and exposure to trends operate as an intelligence officer or expatriate. In other words, there is nothing more informed about an intelligence agency’s estimate about the potential for a revolution’s success than that of a good non-intelligence agency analyst or scholar.  

It is not that US and Israeli intelligence assessments are entirely in agrrement with what the opposition appears to believe. Indeed, there appears to be a rough consensus on several points.  First, Iran’s people are fed up with the regime. They are palpably seething in their anger and their disdain.  And it is universal.  Second, the regime clearly retains the will to kill – which was absent, for example, in the 1989 annus mirabilis of eastern Europe’s liberation.  Third, there is increasing foreign intervention that helps the Iranian regime survive.  Fourth, the population generally is disarmed facing a heavily armed gendarme. And fifth, the opposition is not operating at this point in a mirrored fashion – it does not match the regime’s a centralized authority, structure of well-funded instruments of attack and foreign material support.  

But here the consensus between the US and the opposition, and even the US and Israel, seems to fray. The US also appears to believe that the threat of separatist violence will dampen popular support “to go all the way,” or in the very least will make nation-wide opposition coordination efforts difficult. This, of course, has been a theme pounded into the public debate by Iran’s disinformation networks and mouthpieces in the West. The US and Israeli governments also appear to disagree ultimately as to whether this unrest can lead to a more reformable and malleable government or not. While the US believes apparently that reform is still possible, in contrast Israeli officials and intelligence analysts fully agree with Iranians of all factions, who appear to summarily dismiss with certainty and even irritated impatience any hope of reform.   

It is these insights — over only some of which intelligence services may have some particular unique sources of information – that the US and Israel conclude that the regime is threatened but will survive.  

And yet, that is where the limits of intelligence analysis kicks in and provides an incomplete, and quite possibly inaccurate, picture. 

Those with the most sensitized understanding of where things are headed are the people on the ground in Iran – the people braving arrest, running into bullets and facing possible assassination. Even a cursory survey of opposition communications over the last three months indicate a novel and quite adamant assertion that “this time it is different.”  This sentiment was present in the week after Mahsa Amini died, and even more so now.  Indeed, the Iranian opposition both in exile and in Iran acts with such confidence that they appear to believe it is a forgone conclusion that the regime is finished, is the walking dead, the corpse of which will soon be swept aside. The Iranian opposition universally just dismisses with impatience analyses that compare this upheaval to the several failed uprisings, including the most serious ones of 2009 and 2019. 

The opposition’s confidence is matched by its actions.  The regime, even Ayatollah Khamenei himself, has at several points ominously threatened and demanded the demonstrations stop immediately; no further “or else.” The strategy was to win by injecting fear and terror on top of the fragmented and separatist,  atomized society. As Iranian scholar Damon Golriz has noted, the regime’s doctrine is called (النصر بالرعب  Al-Nasr Bal Raeb) which means winning by terrorizing people into submission, The concept refers to three Surah Anfal (12), Surah Al-Imran (151), Surah Ahzab (26).  Again, as with the separatist question, CIA director Burns admits that he has been rather surprised as well by the resolve of the Iranian people and assesses the “genuine courage” of Iranians. He also noted that his Israeli colleagues also believe that “the people of Iran have overcome the barrier of fear.”   

Indeed, after the issuance of such ominous threats by the regime, the demonstrations generally escalated rather than faded and also led to further uprisings. The government then applied the “or else” – live ammunition, executions in public, horrific and systematic torture and unspeakable brutality on a vast scale.  But this butchery failed to suppress. Rather, it only led to yet further upheaval and intertwining cycles of 40-days (the end of mourning periods in which vengeful violence often follows).  In other words, the government has the will to kill, but the population appears to be little deterred by this and escalates in response.  How does one deter a population over which one has lost the asset of fear? 

Moreover, the separatist demon which seems to be so central to shunting the analysis of Western intelligence onto the sidetrack of pessimism, but the reality on the ground suggests that the regime’s propaganda has captured Western elites, but not Iranians. Indeed, it appears to those on the ground almost entirely the opposite.   

In his interview, while at the same time Western elites bemoan the lack of a unified leadership as an insurmountable barrier to success this round and constantly raise the separatist specter that emerges from this, even CIA director Burns was forced to admit, and even underscore that he is quite surprised by the unprecedented “duration” and “scope” of these protests and that they are “cutting across” Iranian society. In other words, the totalitarian regime’s attempt to atomize society into conflicting entities (e.g. men vs. women, nation vs. diaspora, Shia vs. Sunni, Kurd or Arab vs. Persian etc.) has failed, and it is thus losing its grip in executing the divide-and-rule strategy.  

The extent to which regions are expressing solidarity with one another across ethnicities and sects, and the disciplined unified messaging of all opposition forces is stunning – despite hellbent efforts by the regime and its western apologists to incite divisions among them.  There is even a unified language of symbolism in resistance of victims (Mahsa Amini, Nika Shukarami…), songs (Baraye) and slogans (Zan, Zendegi, Azadeh—Woman, Life Freedom).  All factions of the opposition appear determined to focus on regime collapse as the highest common priority and regard the failure to achieve that as the single greatest obstacle to achieving any other goal they might hold. 

As far as the funding question goes, there is a balancing beginning not because the opposition is getting money, but because the regime is losing it. The spread of strikes and paralyzed economic activity from general unrest is clearly beginning to stress the regime. Critical industries are either fully struck or struck in rolling temporary outages – from oil workers to bazaar merchants.  There are signs this hurts: foreign disbursements of money have declined to regional terror groups, such as the Palestinians.  Indeed, The Plan and Budget Organization of the Islamic Republic announced in an analytical report, a year ago (summer of 2021) already then concluded that if the “unhealthy economic structure of the country” were not fundamentally revised, the Iranian government will be on the verge of bankruptcy by 2024 and three years after that, it will go bankrupt in 2027.”5 

A concerted campaign of tightened sanctions coupled with the widespread climate of strikes could easily snowball if Western governments launch a determined effort. One could only imagine what might happen if foreign governments placed all of Iran’s frozen assets into the hands of the Iranian opposition. 

Taken together, there seems to be a momentum and intensity to the upheaval that has not abated, which to some extent even US and Israeli intelligence do seem to acknowledge. But these intelligence agencies at the same time seem to admit that they are somewhat surprised by this resilience, and did not appreciate – and apparently still do not – appreciate from where it is coming from other than sheer despair. 

Even though US and Israeli intelligence officials admit that there appears to be universal upheaval by all segments of Iranian society, and even they also admit that Iranians are showing incomprehensible bravery in charging regime forces and sustaining the revolt, the assessment of both Israeli and American intelligence communities remains; the regime is not facing an “immediate threat” to its survival, because ultimately they believe the regime’s strategy of repression is effective, and that it has not exhausted its tools of repression and brutality. In the Israeli intelligence estimate:  

“The deep change Iran is undergoing will not necessarily result in a revolution and regime change. Right now, we do not see this happening in the foreseeable future …The regime still has many tools with which to defend itself and it has not exhausted most of them.”6 

In other words, though separatism, lack of funding and fear have not yet stopped the freedom revolution, they eventually will.  Despair cannot ultimately overpower fear – which will set in — and lead (bullets) – which the regime has.  

And yet, revolutions do not automatically happen just because there is widespread despair. Nor is the correlation of forces determinant as the historical record of revolutions suggest. Clearly something else is at work which US and Israeli intelligence structures are not grasping.  But what is this intangible factor that seems to be at work here that drives the opposition’s confidence with such determination, but is entirely missed by the professional analysts of Western governments? Why are those taking to the streets so confident that not only has  fear notworked for the regime, but it will it not work going forward either? 

Reading between the lines, the opposition appears to believe that a Jinn (Genie in Western parlance) has been released from his bottle, and that he cannot be shoved back into his vessel by the regime. Only by indentifying this “Jinn” can one properly understand why there is such resolve and confidence among Iran’s youth who take to the streets. 

Ironically, this “Jinn” comes from the regime itself. The very attribute that gives the regime the will to kill – its obsession with martyrdom raised to the level of being a cult of death – has been so broadly seared through all-encompassing indoctrination of children and adults alike over several generations that it now is bending back to haunt the regime.  

It is apparent that parents in Iran are tired. They are not the agents of this revolution right now.  They love and lost too many children, and with every death, there is deep mourning at the funeral.  The image that raced across the social media on December 8 when the family of Mohsen Shekari was informed of his being hanged – with screaming out of sheer agony on the street – is heartbreaking, haunting and entirely comprehensible. The parents are too worn down to sacrifice yet another generation of children to the cult of death. But that parents are not the ones leading the emerging revolution; they are broken generations.  But the youth are not. 

And this revolution belongs to Iran’s youth. 

Youth are often more absorbent of the world around them and impervious to danger, and the constant atmosphere of worshipping martyrdom has created a generation that at this young age sees the pursuit of an idea as worthy enough for which to die.  The idea for the Ayatollahs for which they hoped all would welcome death to realize was the archaic glorious expansion of a totalitarian form of Islam. But for the youth, such a vision of Islam has no appeal. Indeed, it is a violation of the ancient understanding, so the deal struck in 654 AD is now off. The idea of freedom – perhaps not fully formed, but very real – has replaced it.   

In this climate of constant martyrdom, the phrase “give me liberty or give me death,” which is so familiar but practically has become distant to young Americans has for Iran’s youth acquired a whole new imagery translated locally. “Zan, Zendegi, Azadeh” has become the cultural equivalent of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death.”  It is one of those rare moments where the few words of a slogan capture, rather than infantilize, vast volumes of ideas and communicates them across all the people of that culture via a universally understood code. 

So ironically, the very animus propelling the regime to kill and rampage regionally – the obsession with death emerging from a cult of martyrdom – now drives Iran’s youth in seething disdain to risk everything in revolt.  Every time the regime shoots and kills, and every day there is another execution, it not only fails to deter, but the very cult of martyrdom it cultivated now swells to haunt and plague it.  With fear compromised, the central currency of terror upon which the regime relies is lost. 

This distortion is a tailwind driving the revolution to probable success – the regime lacks the means to erase the willingness to die that challenges them — but it is also a blight with which the post-Ayatollah regime will have to wrestle.  The ancient soul of Iran is of light and life, not darkness and death.  The world of Iran’s civilizational creation – the deepest reach of Iran’s soul to this day – is the world which Abolqasem Ferdowsi described and embodied in his works. As Azar Nafisi wrote, quoting her father, in the introduction to a recent translation of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh: the Persian Book of Kings, in the kingdom of imagination Ferdowsi built  

“Rostam, Tahmineh, Seyavash, Bizhan and the other fictional characters … became our brothers and sisters, cousins and neighbors…For Persians, Shahnameh is like their identity papers … Against the barbarity of time and politics, … they created magnificent monuments in words, they reasserted both their own worth and the best achievements of mankind through a work like Shahnameh, the golden thread that links one Persian to the other, connecting the past to the present.”7   

Simply, the soul of Iran is reflected in poetry. The idea of poetry as a vehicle of transmitting identity distant from how Americans understand ourselves, especially our youth. But poetry and songs of Iran, like e-Iran, and terms, like “Iranzamin” capture the deep and unique civilizational emotion that touches Iran’s soul and anchors them to their land – namely something akin to Abraham Lincoln’s “mystic bonds of memory.” 

Shahnameh describes not a conquest and religious conversion of ancient Persia, but a cultural rapture between very different, and indeed diametric opposite, cultures. The refined, urban and wealthy Persia was overtaken by the harsh, stark, simple and nomadic conquerers – Indeed, Ferdowsi —in a warning to the wealthy, urban and technologically superior West across a millennia and half — laments the juxtaposition in this spectacle between the gilded armor and shining military display of the Persian armies which may have looked impressive externally but whose internal will broke so easily from the rust of comfort and then surrendered to the much less armed, much less wealthy and much less clad Arab invaders.   

And yet, the symbolism of this ancient culture offers a pillar of resurrection.  The poplar tree bends in the wind, the origin of the symbol of our “paisley” was a Victorian era fascination with motifs of the orient, so it has been vastly popularized in clothing, carpets, ties and paintings throughout the world.  But this is no more art work for the Persians: it is an allegory of their culture and the moment of surrender that Ferdowsi describes.  The poplar tree, signifying ancient Iranian culture, lasts forever, but it has to bend to the wind, signifying Islam, to do so. 

Inflexible resistance would have only led to its breaking and erasure.  For the Muslim invaders, this was fine.  Although it conceded some to ancient Persia to allow some elements of its culture and its cultural memory to survive, it gained as well since attempting to control this ancient culture was preferable to the business of erasing it altogether. The Arab invaders lacked the numbers to extinguish Persia in all its complexity, vastness and influence, so the deal that has lasted over a millennium was struck.  

Ancient Persian culture, thus, still has a grip on some corner of the Iranian soul, but it has been bent and covered by the greater forces of Islam for millennia. 

So over the soul of light and life, a culture that so worships fire and light, is an overlay that has been imposed. While various forms of Islam, and various phases of Islamic evolution, upheld the ancient deal, this new form of Islam, developed over the last century and imposed on Iran in 1979, has violated the millennium-long understanding with its Persian hosts.  

The totalitarian intrusion into Shiite thought, anchored onto the idea of the Valayat e-Faqeh (Rule of the Jurisprudent) over the last decades has sought to erase the last remnants of Persia, and it is finding that this ambition is likely no easier to have accomplished now than it was in 654 AD. Ironically, while the government of the Ayatollahs tries to spin its new ideology as some deep, culminating expression of Iranian culture, the truth is more likely the opposite. A reasonable argument can even be made that this newest, modern form of totalitarian Islam is the triumph of a Greek philosophical Shibbolet – namely Plato’s idea of the “philosopher king” which is now invested with a religious fervor and pious veneer against which Aristotle argued — over the Persia represented by Cyrus.  

This twisted manifestation of Islam is a world of darkness and death, embodied by the dour, cruel and arrogantly detached leadership of these reigning Ayatollahs. It is undeniable that at the heart of all Shiism is the ongoing pain and reliving of the assassination of Ali in 661 AD, and the following martyrdom of his sons Hasan in 670 AD and Husayn a decade later in Karbala, but this regime of Iran has taken this reverence for their martyrdom and raised it to the single, defining factor of its existence. Theirs is the God of misery, where life is easily bartered for the relief of death, where the hell of earth is traded for the paradise of the afterlife. The value of emulation is taken to the extreme to striving to reach the demise that the founding three suffered. 

This grim, bleak desolation offered by the regime offers little for which to live, while at the same time its diminishing of the value of life instilled over generations also erases the fear upon which the regime depends for survival.  This duality is the Jinn the intelligence communities miss, but which the Iranian people appear to believe has been released from its vessel. 

Something profound is gripping Iran.  A twilight struggle to the death has been joined. The Ayatollahs have violated the old understanding between Persia and Islam. The intensity of the ensuing suppression and the acceleration of their attempts to erase the Persian heart of the nation have now cut so deep that it has forced Iranians, as the trustees of their ancient culture and legacy, who breathe the poetry and stories of their history to nurture their unique soul, into a battle for survival.  And yet, now as then, the forces of totalitarianism attempting to extinguish Persia simply lack the numbers. And they will thus eventually lose.  

And this is the point that both Israeli and American intelligence agencies appear to miss entirely.  It is not their fault. Intelligence operates in a world of stress and short fuses.  They are navigators to a captain in a storm. The captain cannot suffer a long treatise on fluid dynamics from a navigator; he needs an immediate judgment as to what he should do.  Yes, they should appreciate context, but immediacy and urgency does not lend itself well to the contemplation of long-term trends. And yet, in such a moment as Iran finds itself, it is only those long-term trends that illuminate for us where affairs are headed. Intelligence assessments are occasionally the consequence of such careful reflection, but usually, they are of limited value. 

As a final thought, sadly, this cult of death imposed by these totalitarians will bedevil Iran after liberation as well. It has left its scars, and scars are never easily covered, let alone erased. One can only hope that an effort to reawaken the contrasting, ancient soul of Iran — whose passing Ferdowsi documents, memorializes but also embodies — in order to create a relish for life and light to overpower this cult of death will prevail.  Indeed, this effort to erase this tormenting distortion of the soul is going to be the most important but difficult task of the post-Ayatollah Iranian leadership.  

The Israeli-Lebanese Maritime Deal: A Study in Flawed Assumptions 

Post Photo

By Dr. David Wurmser

The problem with the Israel-Lebanon maritime agreement just concluded is not only its content, but the surrounding arguments promulgated to justify it in the public eye. There may be secret provisions to the agreement that render it an achievement, but the public disclosures of the terms and rationale for the agreement fall far short, and in some cases are flat out wrong or are invented assertions. One might be tempted to excuse these as public roll-out efforts, which are often akin to putting makeup on warthogs, but some of the public statements from Israel meant to justify the agreement go beyond mere spin and become outright misrepresentations. And worse, some reveal a deeper cause for concern about the underlying defense and foreign policy conceptions informing Israel’s security establishment. 

The agreement at least is an historic first…Not. 

The United States negotiator, US envoy Amos Hochstein asserted the agreement as historic since it is the first agreement ever between Israel and Lebanon.1 An impressive achievement indeed, if it true. But it isn’t.  In fact, there was an agreement – several to be accurate – between Israel and Lebanon.  The Rhodes Agreements of 1948 established a de facto demarcation line, which is what was just reset under this agreement although this is heralded as the first such line established between the two nations.  Second, like this agreement, it actually was both sides’ putting their signature to paper through an intermediary, the United States, so this agreement breaks no new ground in terms of tacit recognition of Israel. 

Indeed, there was even a previous peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon signed on May 17,  1983.  This was not a peace treaty dictated to Lebanon by Israel, but one negotiated under the auspices of the United States Special Envoy for the Middle East, Morris Draper. It contained provisions for buffer zones under the control of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and even contained security cooperation between the LAF and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to ensure deconfliction and to prevent third parties from using the territory to trigger conflict between the two nations.  The treaty collapsed because the Syrian government, who occupied Lebanon but had been momentarily thrown on their heels by the Israeli invasion, recovered and toppled the Lebanese government and then installed a puppet regime in Beirut to move parliament under a new Speaker, Hussein al-Husseini, to formally revoke the treaty. Ironically, the previous Speaker, Kamel Assad, had championed the agreement with Israel, and had come from a prominent Lebanese Shiite family in Bent Jbail in the heart of the Shiite community of southern Lebanon, so his ouster became the main target not only of Syrian efforts to sabotage the agreement but of an Iranian campaign to destroy the traditional Shiite leadership of Lebanon and seize from it the mantle of the “Shiite Awakening” (which under Imam Musa al-Sadr’s leadership preceded the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979 by a half decade) and to pave the way for replacing the old elite with a new Hizballah-based Iranian Islamic revolutionary monopoly. 

In short, there is nothing new or historic about the agreement.  In fact, it aimed far lower and achieved far less than its predecessor agreements. 

Well, then it strengthens Israel strategically by codifying an American security guarantee…Not. 

The agreement erodes, and even endangers, US support for Israel for three reasons. 

First, it is rather baffling that the strongest ally of the United States in the region should need a security guarantee from the United States bought through confessions to its enemy. Israel says that were it not for the agreement, there could well be war with Hizballah, which is also one of the most inimical and murderous entities to the United States, not only Israel. Lebanon at this point is a captive state dominated by Iran through Hizballah. Standing with Israel against Hizballah and the Hizballahi-run Lebanon should emerge from an inherent American interest and should not require either Israeli concessions or the imprimatur of Lebanon to validate it.  In other words, the agreement does not display tightening and elevating US-Israeli strategic cooperation but reflects the fallen state of those relations – rather than emerging from a strictly bilateral understanding – that it now requires some sort of purchase from Israel’s enemy and a string of Israeli concessions to allow for its codification. 

Second, the agreement ostensibly codifies the red lines and casus belli for Israel’s and the US’s responses if Israel’s waters or fields are again threatened. The fact that the Lebanese government has said it recognizes no such delineation as legally binding only hours after the deal was reached is disturbing enough, but in terms of US-Israeli relations, the true parameters of danger can be illustrated through a cautionary lesson from the end of the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon/Hizballah war of how this “commitment” could easily boomerang to haunt Israel gravely and potentially even cause the United States to cross Israel strategically in the future. After a month of war with Hizballah, Israel was seeking an exit. Israel’s foreign minister at the time, Tzippi Livni, turned both to Washington and to France, since they were seen as able to sway Lebanon, to help secure a ceasefire resolution through the United Nations. John Bolton was the US-UN ambassador, and I was the point of contact for the Vice President’s office. 

France sought almost immediately to craft a UN resolution that would be legally binding – an idea onto which Israel’s security and foreign policy establishment quickly seized, believing that it would finally be able to cap and regulate Hizballah’s presence in Lebanon in such a way that its threatening behavior would be met with an international response.  In essence, Israel tried to substitute its freedom of action and the power of the IDF for an international security guarantee to leash Hizballah and secure its norther border.  

The United States, through the efforts of Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams and US UN Ambassador John Bolton, resisted the pressure of Foreign Minister Livni and the French, and torpedoed this effort. The fear that motivated us – and disturbingly not Israel’s defense and foreign affairs elite – was that it would clearly commit the US to side against the party that was internationally labeled as the violator of the ceasefire.  One does not have to be a historian or Middle East scholar to know that the international community will not declare either Hizballah’s rearmament and redeployment onto the border a casus belli and justify an Israeli – let alone international – preemptive strike.  

And then, a Hobson’s choice would be thrust upon Israel. Either Israel would have to acquiesce without any response to Hizballah’s buildup, or it would have to preempt but risk (really a certainty, not risk) its being labelled the aggressor which would trigger the legally binding provisions of response of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701.  In short, were UNSCR 1701 legally binding, then Israel would soon have found itself in a situation where it would be unable to act preemptively to prevent further build-up and threatening movements of Hizballah unless it would be willing do so – in the opinion of the international community – in violation of the legally binding resolution to which the United States would have been bound to uphold. To prevent this trap, US Ambassador Bolton stood his ground and forced through a tough but non-binding resolution, much to the chagrin of the French and Israelis. Of course, the moment the ceasefire was signed, Iran began resupplying Hizballah and Hizballah began deploying dangerously toward the south.  One can only imagine how impossible it would have been for Israel over the last 17 years to continuously slice Hizballah down to size as it has by using force – including against depots and shipments, let alone against leadership. Israel would long ago have been subject to the very provisions it had sought to subcontract its defense to a outside entity through legal commitments. 

Unfortunately, the current Israel-Lebanon agreement falls into the very trap which was avoided under UNSCR 1701. In fact, it is an even worse trap since this agreement fails to clearly define the behaviors by Lebanon that would trigger the security commitments. There is a failure in the agreement to define what would constitute a material violation on the Lebanese side, but it does clearly define Israeli commitments under the agreement, many of which are impossible to uphold if Lebanon or Hizballah act without such clearly defined legal restrictions.  As such, this agreement threatens the exact same nightmare scenario as the Israeli-French proposal in 2006, which was rejected as the basis for UNSCR 1701.  

Third, and perhaps most disturbing, is the assumption underlying this – that entangling the United States into a commitment to defend Israeli interests strengthens the Israeli-American relationship and reinforces the American strategic backstop – should not be taken as a given. In fact, it is worth examination. 

For years, Israel’s defense elites have been seized by the conception that the support of the US government is an essential component of any strategic move or substantial military action, the key to which the Israeli government and security establishment believes demanded launching a full court campaign of convincing Washington’s elites in the corridors of power.  

On one side, there is a” Zionist” problem with this outlook. One of the most refreshing and important aspects of the solidification of Zionism and the mooring of Israeli identity was the idea that it represented the rejection of the Diaspora “Galut” Jew – a person whose institutionalized weakness and disempowerment distorted the soul and left him at the mercy of the non-Jewish world and attempting futilely to make peace with his implacable haters. Israel’s defense establishment in recent years seems to be too burdened by the idea that it cannot act without approval from the United States in critical moments. This is most evinced by its belief that the Iran problem ultimately requires an American solution. But if it does, then what happens when the US refuses, or the US simply withdraws from the region, or the US enters an introverted or isolationist stage.  The whole point of Zionism was that Israel’s fate is in Israel’s hands regardless of what others demand of it. 

But on the other side, there is an equally large “American” problem. The support of the American leadership for Israel in America generally comes from the strong foundation of public support and sense of cultural affinity which Israel enjoys broadly in the American population. Part of this emerges from the unique Judeo-Christian roots of American identity which views itself as the New Jerusalem and seeks guidance culturally from its Christianity (even secular Americans still culturally respect their Judeo-Christian foundations).  But part of this also emerges from the respect Israel has earned through its actions and its fierce independence – and distinctly NOT from appreciation of a history of seeking prior permission.  

Indeed, Americans are increasingly displaying signs of exhaustion in bearing the burden for the defense of other nations who appear unwilling to bear the burden primarily themselves for their own defense. Very few American administrations in the last four or five decades, for example, have avoided a welling demand in the public for greater defense-burden sharing from our European allies. Israel has long stood out precisely because it never asked for American troops or entangling security guarantees.  It was precisely the idea that when Israel acts, it does so because it is so important that it bear the burden alone.  This independent determination and willingness to pay the price reminds Americans of themselves and convinces Americans popularly, and thus the leadership particularly, that they should support Israel both during specific episodes and in a more general sense.  

Transforming Israel from strategic asset to albatross – from an independently-minded ally to a dependent obligation – is perhaps one of the greatest threats to public support, and through it the leadership’s support, for Israel that can be imagined. And yet, consistently over the last several decades, Israel’s defense establishment has tried to entangle the United States in Israel’s defense structure, thankfully all stillborn, through various schemes that could damage Israel’s brand image and erode American respect. This includes through the years:  

  • the idea of American guarantees in Judea and Samaria (even deployments to protect Israel) in exchange for Israel‘s withdrawal during the Oslo period,  
  • Israeli acquiescence during the Obama administration in American diplomatic efforts on Iran or to entice Israel to join the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and accept a regional nuclear weapons free zone in the region by offering a nuclear umbrella (Hillary Clinton) in exchange for Israel’s surrendering its reported nuclear capability,  
  • the idea of deploying US troops to the Golan Heights to secure Israeli withdrawal from there in the mid-1990s, and now  

These efforts all never came to be, making this agreement the first to really be accepted by Israel since Eisenhower’s security guarantee to Israel in 1957 for withdrawing from the Sinai. The fate of that guarantee leaves room for anxiousness.  

Simply put, Americans get tired of supporting nations that are not willing to defend themselves, and Israel is in danger through this constant tendency among Israel’s defense elites to slide into that category. 

Equally disconcerting, however, is that while the primacy of maintaining Israel’s freedom of strategic maneuver has been rhetorically loudly tempted by virtually every Israeli politician, it took bold leadership to act on that conviction at the political level since the underlying defense establishment conception is that securing American approval transcends strategic maneuver. This ossified conception has gripped and dominated Israel’s defense elites since 1970, and it has left along the way a horrific trail of failure behind it starting with 1973.  Strategic maneuvers and independence of action, including the ability to launch strategic preemption, is a critical, if not one of the two most critical, pillars of a proper Israeli defense strategy (the other pillar is strategic depth through buffers to allow for mobilization). Dependency and habitual reliance on “the green light” from Washington devastates that pillar. 

Ah, but it reinforces deterrence…Not 

The agreement exposes several deeply disturbing ideas that afflict the Israeli defense establishment about strategy and deterrence, some of which in truth reflect a more broadly-shared decay in Western strategic thinking. 

The logic of the specific agreement as publicly stated is deeply flawed and troubling. All of its logic and assumptions are in one form or another a rendition of the belief that by bolstering Lebanon, you will create conditions for their severing their ties with Iran — or at least reducing them below other national objectives that gravitate toward a Beirut-Tehran rupture. It rests on two assumptions.  

First that deterrence is a foundational strategy, but that the enemy might lack enough value that it renders it impossible to effectively threaten enough to deter. Thus, the more value the enemy is given by Israel which he would lose in war, the stronger the deterrent. This logic has been applied to the Palestinians as well, and it has proven entirely erroneous. The US tried a diluted and tenuous version with the Soviets in the 1970s, and it ended in failure with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan‎.   

Indeed, just this week it was revealed that one of the core conceptions underlying the German government’s support (under Angela Merkel) for the Nord Stream II natural gas pipeline from Russia was that by giving Russia so great an economic interest, it would stabilize Russian European relations, make war impossible, and increase energy security for the European continent – an almost verbatim duplicate of the Israeli arguments regarding the Lebanon agreement.  Of course, we all know how well these German assumptions panned out on February 24, 2022.  

Second, proponents rely on a bedrock assumption that the enemy, in this case Lebanon, has any agency. That somehow it has power of decision to go to war, to make peace, to cease hostility, and that only if the incentives were great enough, then they would really cast the Iranians away and enter the promised utopia. Lebanon is a captive nation and has no agency, as did neither Czechoslovakia, Hungary nor Poland and others during the Cold War. No matter what we would have given the Czechs in 1945-1989, it would never have resulted in their choosing to bolt, because ‎it was not a choice over which they had power to make. So too Lebanon. I have yet to meet a single Lebanese who does not wish dearly to rid themselves of Iran, they do not need a gas field to do so, but they are desperate because they have no power or control over any decision.  

Moreover, if Hizballah’s centrally held value is to survive, and Iran’s centrally held value is to dominate Lebanon through Hizballah, then any attempt to develop a foundation of any sort for Lebanese independence inherently becomes a target for Hizballah’s and Iran’s ire – and their determined sabotage.  In that way, it is precisely because the fields could become a foundation for reducing Lebanon’s dependence on Iran that it raises the latter’s interest in escalating hostilities, precisely to sabotage that movement. In other words, unless Hizballah is already neutralized and Iran’s clench broken, these moves toward building a Lebanese economy of separation will be still born, or even invite attack … unless the moves can be incentivized to be in Hizballah’s and Iran’s interest.  The only pathway for that would be to allow these fields to become a structure for enriching and laundering money in times when they face international ostracism and sanctions.  But that would then mean that this agreement — reached at time when the Iranian people are braving bullets to oust their tormentors – becomes a vehicle whereby Israel has allowed funding for the internally repressive and externally aggressive apparatus (including the Huthis, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, let alone militias in Iraq) serving the Islamic Revolution to be infused with new sources of income.  

Third, is a corollary to the last point.  Could perhaps it arise that if Hizballah financially benefits from the gas proceeds — since no Israeli official has as yet argued that it will be possible to insulate the money from Hizballah skimming ‎– then perhaps it might lead to a split between Hizballah (who will enjoy the revenue proceeds) and Iran‎ (which will not)? But this betrays a highly questionable assumption regarding the interwoven and symbiotic nature of Hizballah-Iranian relations. Hizballah relies on Iran on so many levels, financial being only one. Hizballah’s uniqueness with respect to other Shiite factions in Lebanon has always been that it is essentially an Iranian appendage, but that this quisling status was masked through its alignment with the reigning ideological construct of the Iranian regime, the “Valeyat e-Faqeh” or Rule of the Jurisprudent. The Valeyat e-Faqeh must be understood as a revolutionary movement within Shiite Islam, and thus does not genuinely enjoy the theological support of Lebanon’s Shiite religious establishment. Without Iranian overlay, the clerical establishment of Hizballah would be superseded and wiped out by the older Shiite establishment, much of which still exists in Iraq. Remember the founding charter of 1985 of Hizballah:  

“we, the Umma of Hizballah, consider ourselves a part of the state of Iran…We are committed to the orders of one leadership, represented by the Valeyat e-Faqeh, the Supreme leader.”   

The most prominent clerics of Lebanon, such as the Ayatollah in Tyre, have far greater following and Silsalah (pedigree), oppose the idea of the Valeyat e-Faqeh. They would seek to diminish and subordinate Hizballah clerics’ influence in a heartbeat. The same can be said of Amal against Hizballah. Indeed, in an attempt at subordinating and fusing Amal with Hizballah, Hizballah made Shaykh Subhi al-Tufayli for two years (1998-91) the Secretary General of the Hizballah. Tufayli was a valued student of the father of the Shiite Awakening, the vanished Imam, Musa al-Sadr. But he opposed Iran’s revolutionary reigning theology of Valeyat e-Faqeh, which strongly suggested – given that he was that the most senior and genuine actor that was present at the creation of the Shiite Awakening in the 1970s – that Musa al-Sadr himself would likely have been opposed to the Iran’s definition of Shiism. This profoundly threatened the Iranian regime which was trying to usurp the mantle to itself of being the father of the Shiite Awakening and the successor to Imam Musa al-Sadr.  Indeed, Iran was already on thin ice in terms of the Shiite Awakening since its key strategic ally at the beginning of the revolution in Iran was Yasser Arafat and the PLO, who is largely believed among Shiites to have ordered the assassination/disappearance of Imam Musa al-Sadr and executed him via his ties to Qadhafi in Libya, who was the other Arab leader with whom the Iranian regime established an early strategic partner. As such, the threat of Tufayli’s opposition to the Iranian regime was clear and present, and as such he was removed and ostracized.  Without Iran’s heavy hand, not only would old Shiite patterns almost instantly resurface and consume Hizballah, but Iran’s usurped mantle of leading the Shiite Awakening would be exposed and collapse. 

As such, Hizballah does not have an indigenous basis to survive its competition with other Shiite trends. There is no Hizballah possible without its being an interwoven part of Iran’s dominance, and vice versa, there is no Iran in Lebanon without Hizballah. As such, trying to create a Hizballah-Iran wedge is like trying to seduce an arm to sever itself from a body. Neither Hizballah nor the arm even have a central nervous system and brain independent of the mother body. 

Finally, as a last thought about whether this agreement strengthens Israel’s deterrence. Israel’s government has trumpeted that were there no agreement, then there would be war and that Israeli gas fields would be threatened.  This is all but an admission that Hizballah’s threats against Karish – backed up by the flying of a few unarmed Hizballahi drones that Israel shot down – drove Israel’s government to concede vast maritime rights and even its sovereign territorial waters as essentially a protection payment against the Hizballah mafiosi-like threat.  The logic underpinning the idea that this strengthens deterrence in the future frankly simply eludes me.  

Well, Israel is emerging as a strategic gas player, and this unlocks that potential…Not 

The Israeli government has argued that it needed this agreement to bring its Karish gas field on-line.  Hizballah, sometimes itself and sometimes channeled through Lebanon’s voice, has threatened every Israeli gas find exploration and development until now, and insists that it now has an agreement with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to attack Israeli fields in a future conflict.  Lebanon last year threatened to act against Israel’s giant Leviathan field, at times claiming it was part of its territory and at times because it accused Israel of stealing its gas through horizontal drilling. In short, there was nothing different about the Karish field from all the previous fields, and Israel has in an unencumbered way thus far developed all those fields thanks to the superior defense capabilities of its navy. And in the end, it is the maintenance of those capabilities that will continue to be the foundation for the security needed to develop Karish. It is thus hardly believable that for some reason Karish could not be developed when others were because Lebanon did not green-light it.  Moreover, even the Lebanese admit that Karish was never really on the table in these talks, and that they never seriously claimed Karish.  In other words, it is unclear how this agreement makes it easier in any way to develop Karish. 

Broadening the aperture, one notices that Israel is at the edge of perhaps one of the greatest moments of strategic good luck it has ever faced. The sudden, great dependency of Europe on finding new sources of gas, combined with the presence of gas in Israel and the ability offered to bring yet more gas through Israel to Europe, position Israel to become a critical gas transmission hub of about 60 to 80 billion cubic meters of gas per annum. But Israel is deliberately denying its territory for transmission by:  

  • Sabotaging the UAE’s desire to build a transmission pipeline for gas through the Eilat-Ashqelon pipeline company rights of way,  
  • Pushing export of Israeli gas through Egypt,  
  • surrendering territory in which it is possible substantial more gas may yet be discovered,  
  • Wasting a precious year of exploration by imposing an inexplicable moratorium, and  
  • Pushing the robust evolution of Lebanese gas which will compete with Israeli gas in Europe and could itself offer as the competing‎ location of being a hub for gas from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — thus effectively forfeiting for Israel this immense strategic gift over which it had no competition until the Israeli government created it via Egypt and Lebanon.  

Taken together, there is no way to avoid concluding that out of ideological reasons (possibly environmental), Israel’s government has deliberately retarded and diminished the potential for finding, producing and exporting gas, let alone to position Israel as a vital national asset in becoming the core east-Mediterranean gas hub. 

Indeed, Israel may have just unlocked the potential for a large alternative gas hub structure anchored to Qatar and Turkey just announced its intention to become the new gas hub for Europe (although including Russian gas).  This unlocks the potential for Qatar to lead an effort to connect its own gas structures to the eastern leveraging the Lebanese gas fields to connect to a Turkish-based pipeline structure into Europe. Six months ago, this was not a conceivable state of development since Lebanon was considered too unstable, the legal infrastructure in Lebanon was rickety, sanctions afflicted the development of the fields, as did the irresolution of the demarcation line with Israel. Israel, and Egypt — who is in tension with Turkey and would be loath to build a pipeline that crosses Turkish waters or territory — for that matter, thus had no effective competition for becoming a gas hub. And now, suddenly Lebanon may well emerge as the gas hub, leaving Israeli gas stranded beyond its current structure.  

Competition is a natural part of life, and Lebanon certainly had the potential to become a competitor along these parameters all along, about which Israel could do nothing other than expedite its own development – which it curiously has been extremely slow to do (or even outright eager to halt) over that last year.  But what is mystifying is why Israel, after having spent a year stalling its own exploration and export infrastructure development, decided to remove a pound of its own flesh to encourage Lebanon to compete with itself in a way that may render Israel’s potential hydrocarbons strategic importance for Europe dead in the water. 

In the end, why did the Israeli government agree to this deal, and why does it do so with such gusto? One can certainly attribute it to cynical political calculations — especially given that this is the annual election season in Israel. Indeed, the rise of cynicism is a phenomenon worthy of examination in and of itself because it afflicts many Israeli politicians as ideas and ideologies fade in currency in organizing political parties  

But attributing this solely to election cynicism skims over the depth of the problem herein exposed. The government’s public justifications for the deal are possibly heartfelt and genuine.  Indeed, they likely are since they reflect deeply held, but equally dangerous, flawed conceptions governing Israel’s strategic imagery, the evidence for which stretches back for decades already. One shape or form of the arguments forwarded to explain this dal have appeared at various levels of development as far back as a half century and reflect a serious, long-term deterioration in the solidity and rigorousness of Israeli strategic thinking and analysis.  Moreover, it is not one “conception” that bedevils the planners and analysists, but a collection of conceptions which have remained beyond critical examination because of a stilted historiography, or narrative, of events and Israeli strategic history that prevents either realization or reexamination of thought.  

In other words, what disturbs most about this agreement is not only its terms, but what it exposes about the problematic state of strategic thinking governing Israel’s defense establishment.