From October 7 to Eurovision: Are we seeing a sea change starting in Western culture?

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By David Wurmser, Ph.D.

Something is changing.  The Western world was asleep, adrift, and decaying. But then came the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. It instantly became a clarifying moment for Israelis – something which put them at odds even with their own elites, let alone the rest of the world.  They were fighting for the very survival they thought they had reliably secured. But then came the campus frenzies against American Jews, as well as European Jewish communities, which became a clarifying moment for young American and European Jews and their families. And then the burning of American flags and the ensuing flag wars in the Palestine Encampments, the “little Gazas” as Senator Tom Cotton calls them, across American academia, in war memorials and on the streets, which became a clarifying moment for many Americans.  And now we see the Eurovision song contest, which became a clarifying moment on the European continent. What started in the horrific shock of the depth of human moral depravity exhibited on October 7 appears to have a profound series of direct and ripple effects across the West, baring bankrupt elites, exposing rising new ones, and perhaps even signaling a return to the values and ideas grounding Western identity and civilization.

Everyone approached their clarifying event differently, as it was filtered through deep questions of identity, culture, pride and security – all issues unique to each of the communities mentioned.  But there is across the broad a common theme: elites have failed and the populations – the common man – are stepping up to the plate. And they are all showing remarkable sobriety, resolve, leadership and moral lucidity in contrast to their drifting, weak, sheep-like and morally conflicted elites.


Israel is perhaps the easiest to grasp and understand. So much of the country donned their uniforms and for months – without internet, without social media – fought for their very lives.  They came together in unity and wanted nothing short of full victory. They held a common sense of purpose. They defended their families and their homes and buried their friends and loved ones.  They braved the missiles and sent another generation of their young children to battle.

Israelis all retreated more into their identity and deeper connection with the experience and trajectory of their 4000-year history that had been shunted onto the sidetrack of their culture for decades. Israeli soldiers took strength and meaning from their Jewish history, heritage and for many, their religion.  The drift and complacence of Israeli society ended and its delusion burst that it had transcended its 4000-year fate and had became a normal nation among nations in a region that no longer sought to eradicate it. Wisdoms, admonitions, and enemies from the Bible sprang back to life and were reanimated in the Israeli psyche. Israel was suddenly intensely Jewish – for some in a religious, for others culturally and historic sense.  Israel was fighting Amalek, and it was a unified family fighting to survive a siege.

But all Israelis understood one thing: what was before October 6 – the failed acrimonious debates, the intensity of brotherly hatred, and the bizarre perversion of elites – political, social and media — that relished the rising divisions as Roman emperors once did both in commanding and enjoying the mortal combat of gladiators – cannot be any more. 

The debates now are shelved, the brothers fighting and dying shoulder to shoulder, and the elites in all sectors of society awaiting their verdict to go home which will come as soon as the guns fall silent.  Israel will have a rebirth, and it will need a new elite to do so. All Israelis understand now they were in one boat; disagreements were and still will be there but the fate of all was common. 

So now, a new Israeli, akin to the World War II generation of Americans, is being forged from the horrors of the dark Sabbath of October 7 and the grit of the battlefields of Gaza, Judea, Samaria, the Golan and Lebanon. 

American and European Jews

American and European Jews grasped early, as well, that this was about them too.  They quickly began to rally behind Israel and pay closer attention to their cousins. Their plight was neither theoretical nor separate.  Jewish communities across the globe instinctively knew that the fate of Israel was their fate.  Soon, the war thousands of miles away came closer and closer personally to them, not just their cousins.  The taboo on antisemitic rhetoric in polite society was broken.  There were random attacks on Jews – some fatal — and antisemitic hate crimes skyrocketed.  And then came the Palestine takeover of our educational institutions.  Left unprotected by the Biden administration, Jewish children found themselves exposed to hatred, physically prevented from access to libraries and free movement in campuses and ability to study, marked as separate, terrified of encountering teachers and professors that would fail them because of who they were, and finally facing increased threats and finally violence.

The curtain seemed to be descending on the golden age of American Jewry – the greatest Diaspora Jewish community of all times – as each American Jew personally, felt under siege.  The moment that unleashed the realization into acute form was when the Chabad Rabbi at Columbia University declared in early April that the university’s Jews should leave the campus because their security could no longer be guaranteed. 

The dam burst. Parents pulled their children out of school.  Jews had lived in American paradise. The very foundations of the American enterprise was intertwined with the flourishing and freedom of the Jewish community for more than three centuries.  The New Jerusalem and the Old Jerusalem were blood brothers in the American experiment.  The rise of antisemitic hatred, however, not only shattered the Jewish sense of security, but also made Jews wonder how solid the American idea – upon which the welfare of the Jewish community is anchored – still is.  Jews inherently understood what they faced was not just a wave of antisemitism, but something that so deeply threatened America that it could signal the passing of a great historical era, leading to another age of mass Jewish wandering to find safe harbor.

But then a remarkable thing happened.  Young Jews, profoundly failed by elite Jewish institutions that stood helpless at this moment of truth, began to assert themselves.  A new generation of Jewish leaders – eloquent, proud, rediscovering their faith and identity in parallel to their Israeli cousins, but also unwilling to give up on the American home and the idea behind it that supported their aspirations, dreams and gave them secure life – suddenly emerged on the campuses.  They testified powerfully to Congress. They spoke on the quads and stairways to make a stand.  They wove their affinity with Israel, respect for Jewish history, and love of America together. Socially and even physically brave, they stood up to their peers and professors to fight back. 

Jewish elites had failed. Elite Jewish institutions stood paralyzed.  But a new generation of Jews – which was more anchored to their Jewish history and identity, but also more unwilling to take the American idea for granted – rushed to the trenches and now rises to sweep them aside.

America more broadly

Non-Jewish Americans came next.  The change emerged directly form the campus Jewish question and the chain of events originating in the October 7 attacks by Hamas.  The “little Gazas” sprung up around the country like mushrooms not only focused on hating Jews, but also on attacking the idea of America – the very thing that these radicals understood was what made the Jews so secure and allowed them to flourish either as an American community or as the Israeli nation. Moreover, harboring the deep objective of destroying the ideas and cultural foundations of the American idea, these radicals – Islamist green or socialist red —  knew the Jewish community embodied a strong part of the American nation’s Judeo-Christian core, and thus the road to destroy America lay through destruction of Judaism and Christianity.  Soon, imported European ideas of antisemtic fascism – the Black – also appeard. The attack on American Jews was just part of the progressive Bolshevik-Islamist-Fascist attack on America itself.  So, flags were burned.  War memorials that have nothing to do with Jews or Israel were desecrated.  Dead Americans who paid the ultimate price to defend their freedom and country were dishonored.

But the antisemitic assault was not broad in American society. They were not like the deep sense of guilt Americans still harbored in the summer of 2020 of the issue of the American Black experience – misplaced guilt because such feelings persist despite the remarkable arc or moral progress over a century – which led the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Even that was a bait and switch exploiting genuine feelings of guilt to launch a violent attack on the very goodness that animated Americans.  But that took time to sort out and realize.

But not so with the Israel issue. Polls consistently showed broad and deep American support for Israel, so there was no deeper sentiment of “anti-colonial” civil rights guilt these riots evoke. Americans identified with Israel and understood its attachment as an indigenous nation to the land for which it was fighting. 

Moreover, Americans had become, even in its earliest days before independence, a remarkably Judeophilic culture. Whether George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whether Mark Twain or John Steinbeck, American leaders and cultural icons committed to letters and words their respect and affinity with Jews.  And Israel seemed to have struck the deep sense of  Cincinnatus virtue that Americans always valued within themselves: the agrarian, farmer spirit of independence and making the land bloom, the fierce attachment to their values and willingness to alone defend them.  So, Americans all along filtered their understanding of October 7 through such a favorable view of Israel.

But the frenzied world of the Palestine encampments and their flag-burning and “death-to-America-chanting” zombie seances not only triggered disgust and evoked a deep sense of American patriotism, but it also showed Americans how profoundly rotted their elite institutions were. Their kids were not alright, and they were not alright because the people to whom Americans had entrusted their childrens’ education was instead turning them against everything they held dear. Congressional hearings of college officials became awful spectacles of mediocre wokeness. Americans on the national level began to see the entire educational system – for which every American family had to part with their life-savings to pay for —  the same way as local parents in Virginia had seen their school boards in 2022-23, which led then to pitched arguments across the country as well as the election of Republicans as senior state officials.  Americans understood their elite institutions no longer transmitted to their young American values or culture, nor taught civic virtue, nor nurtured patriotism, nor even respected family or faith in any way. 

And then came their moment. The Israeli and American Jewish question suddenly flowed together into the broader American question. In late April at the University of North Carolina, the little Gaza encampment – as all other encampments across the land – tore down the American flag at the university’s flagpole, burned it and replaced it with the Palestine flag.  The president of the university sent for police and marched along with them to take down the flag of Palestine and raise the American flag, accompanied by a rousing speech about the meaning of the American flag and its unique purpose in flying above us all.   No sooner had the flag been raised than the progressive Red-Green-Black (Bolshevik-Islamist-Fascist) radicals from the Palestine encampments sought to tear it down again.  But it was not to be. They were met by a group from the university’s Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epslion Pi (AEPi), who in a Iwo-Jima like moment, surrounded the flag, protected it from touching the ground and being soiled, and stood firm against projectiles to ensure the American flag remains flying on the pole.  The image that emerged from that incident was iconic and captured the American nation. 

Those of us who remember the late 1970s, remember the humiliation – already bubbling from the fall of Saigon – reverberating as American hostages were taken by Iran’s Ayatollahs.  They also remember the American victory in the Lake Placid Olympic hockey game of 1980, and the shift toward patriotism and energy generated by pride that took over the American soul in its wake.  As Iran had done in 1978-9, Iran’s proxies (Hamas), their minions and their Bolshevik and fascist allies of progressive radicals on American campuses had done in 2024.  So, those of us who do remember the American awakening of 1979-80 easily identify the current American re-Awakening of 2024 emerging from the images of  the AEPi defense of the flag at UNC.  The young frat boys were the equivalent of the young US hockey Olympic team at Lake Placid.  Across the country, young Americans – indeed many frats but then far beyond– began to mobilize to defend their flag and march to assert their pride in America.

Israel, the American Jewish question, and the reawakening of America were all now flowing in alignment – and all by virtue of a young new leadership emerging on the ossified husk of their community’s elites and their failing stagnant structures. 


But to the surprise of many Israelis, American Jews, and other Americans, it appears this is beginning to grip even Europe in the last weeks.  True, there were signs: the wave of elections, starting with Brexit, that symbolized a welling rejection of elites, elite culture, and elite power, had been brewing for years.  The discerning observer could see it.  But there still wasn’t the moment – the defining event to lay bare the vast chasm emerging between the elites and the societies over which they lorded. 

The moment may well have come this week – the usually politically marginal Eurovision song event.  The artistic elites of Europe, along with the state broadcast authorities which ran it considered not inviting Israel – a traditional powerhouse at this song competition – to bow to the ostensible antisemitic sentiments gripping the European.  Trying to use Israel’s song entry as “too political in hopes that Israel would thus disqualify itself – saving the EBU from the embarrassment of singling out and banning the Jewish state,” Europe’s elites demanded the wounded Jewish nation to go through several iterations of its song before the European Broadcast Union (EBU) would allow it to perform. But Israel played along, watered it down until its words were anodyne and palatable enough that the EBU could no longer hook its hopes of disqualification on them.

Israel came to the event in Malmo, Sweden – the epicenter of Islamist radical hatred of Jews and Israel —  and so did the masses of enraged radicals and European Muslims from across the continent. They threatened the Israeli singer, forced her to lockdown in her hotel room and brave riots attacking her convoy on the way to perform. Other nations’ delegates refused to have their rooms in proximity to the Israeli singer, and thus she had to be removed to a remote and isolated wing of the hotel.  Several delegations threatened a boycott and virtue signaled through costume and press conferences their dripping disdain of the Jewish singer.  Those few singers who in an unguarded moment had been photographed interacting with the Israeli singer, even in fleeting moments, were forced to apologize and ask that the picture be expunged from the public record. Israeli journalists and presenters were even forced by the European Broadcaster Union to remove their small yellow ribbons some wore to symbolize their hope of the return of Israel’s 132 hostages from Hamas torture and captivity.  The elites of Europe had decided that the people of Europe could not stomach association with Israel, in even song. Still, the desire of their national delegations to be feted outweighed their ostensible rage and they all performed. 

But Israel’s 20-year old Eden Golan still quietly took the stage, stood alone in front a loudly jeering audience of booing and shrieking pro-Palestine chants that tried to drown out the performance.  But in an act of bravery and immense discipline, she sang and sang true. 

And when she did, a remarkable thing happened.  The competition had a 50% popular vote across Europe and 50% an elite-board driven vote of judges that would combine to produce the winner.  Israel swept the popular vote.  Golan garnered a remarkable 327 points from the voting populations of Europe.  Moreover in 15 of the 35 nations, Israel outright won the popular vote (12 points for each win) and took second place (10 points) in seven more. Clearly, the people of Europe made their voce heard: Israel was not to be shunned, and in fact was wildly popular.

Then the elites spoke through the EBU judges.  They knew better what the people wanted than the people. While the judges’ votes historically have never varied too sharply from the popular vote, this time they did – and across the board.  Israel received only 52 votes by the EBU judges’ panels. 24 nations awarded the Israeli singer 0 votes.  11 more gave her extremely low votes (3-5 votes).  And no nation awarded Israel winning tallies.  In fact, many of the nations in which Israel won the popular vote by wide margins had their judges award Israel zero points. Western European elites led the trend: the UK, Switzerland, Luxembourg, San Marino, Spain, Finland, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Andorra, Belgium, and Sweden all had been won by Israel with 12 points on the popular vote, but all had the judges award Israel zero points.  Four of the five UK judges had ranked Israel as the worst song of the 35.

On the immense strength of the popular vote, and despite the unprecedented split action of the EBU broadcasting and artistic elites of Europe, Israel still finished in fifth place overall.  What was equally interesting was not only the popularity, but the image of the Israeli next to the other contestants.  Ireland and others fielded singers that were all twisted, depraved or sexually conflicted.  They were all orc-like caricatures of art.  Except Israel and one or two others (such as Armenia).  It was really a contest not only over songs, but over avant-garde artistic depravity versus wholesome ballads.  In many ways, Israel represented a return to normalcy, though swirling in a maelstrom of hate and threat.  Most European singers represented the degeneracy of a dying culture – a dying culture not only tolerated by but peddled by the continent’s elites.  A picture of the most anti-Israeli singer, Ireland’s Bambi Thug (right), juxtaposed with Israel’s, Eden Golan (left), could not be more symbolic and stark:

And yet, what had been laid bare was that the populations of Europe were just fine with Israel and liked the wholesomeness they saw, but the elites of Europe knew better and had to punish Israel and ensure it would lose to protect their twisted cultural bizarreness.  The tide of antisemitism, and the self-destructive depravity of it and accompanying it, was largely an immigrant and elite phenomenon; it was not at all populist.

We have yet to see if a new generation will emerge in Europe that will seize the reins from their obviously out of touch elites.  Recent elections suggest that may be happening, but it is too early to tell what sort of impact the Eurovision event had and what it may trigger. 


But from these events from Israel on October 7th to Eurovision on May 11, several things are clear.  Elites have failed the young generation, and a new generation is arising.  In Israel and among American Jews, a new leadership is rising in front of our very eyes from the battlefields of Gaza and U.S. campuses. Among non-Jewish Americans, a new patriotism seems to be stirring that reminds one of the eve of the Reagan era. And in Europe, the populations seem refreshingly to be unmoved by their 2000-year legacy of hating Jews.

Antisemitism is dangerous and rampant, but it is not just tolerated, but encouraged and fomented by elites. We have learned how in the past how antisemitism was the vehicle used by cynical elites to tap into their population’s worst instincts – implying elites may be cynical but not the ultimate font of the evil.  But what we see here and in Europe is the opposite: antisemitism is held by elites against the sentiments of the populations.  It takes an active role of elites and tolerance, including the protection and encouragement of a minority of antisemites, as well as expressions of their own antisemitic libels, to create the 1930s-like climate of antisemitism that we see today. And still the population did not buy it, or at least this time.

October 7 was a horror.  But it triggered an historic change, perhaps a change of eras.  And this time, the Jews and Israel are not mere subjects of history, but its catalyst.  Jews for two millennia spoke of being a light among nations – much like the American idea of itself being a beacon, John Winthrop’s shining city on a hill as the pilgrim leader on the Mayflower suggested – but by being disempowered, there was hardly any reality of this role for Jews as their quest for mere survival was all-consuming.  But now, despite being small and in a war again for its every survival, Israel seems to be casting some light that is shining onto populations and peoples far away, triggering in them a rediscovery of themselves and what made those distant lands and cultures great.   Rising from the ashes of October 7, Israel is leading the world to realizing the failure of its elites, the threat to their cultures, and the need to rally to defend the long line of western civilization that ran from Mts. Moriah and Sinai, and from Plato to NATO.

On Majnouns, Gorillas and Devouring Chess Kings

By Dave Wurmser Ph.D.

Israel’s position in Gaza had been under immense pressure from the United States on several fronts.  The US was pressing for expansion of humanitarian aid, even though there was a four-fold increase in food truck delivery into Gaza over comparable periods before the war (about 4kg of food per person per day this week). The US was also pushing Israel to abandon large-scale operations, deploy defensively and employ targeted operations only. It asked that Israel show immense flexibility on the ceasefire-hostage talks and to avoid any real military actions during Ramadan. The US also asked Israel to take off the table any plan to take Rafiah, the last remaining stronghold of Hamas – a request that essentially would leave Hamas to survive as the ruler of a rump-Gaza entity. The impossibility of these demands created pressure – described by some Israelis as perhaps the greatest rupture in US-Israeli relations since Israel’s founding.  

Israel redeploys in Gaza

And then suddenly, on April 9, Israel shifted its position, essentially folding on all counts except for the insistence that Rafiah will still be taken, but not quite yet.  Essentially, Israel on the surface yielded on the ceasefire-hostage talks, on the humanitarian supply, and on defense redeployment. It appeared as if Israel handed the United States the keys to the car.

It certainly seemed that way to Hizballah and Iran. Hizballah crowed that the end of the war was nigh and that Israel had been defeated.  Iran, emboldened by what it saw as the American ability to leash its ally tightly, felt it could strike Israel – or even to threaten to strike Israel – and the United States would panic, Israelis would lose their nerve, and Iran would with impunity score a big psychological victory and perhaps a military victory without a major Israeli response.  

Certainly, the popular mood in Israel was indeed anxious over the Gaza redployment.  It remains a consensus that the US positions, if accepted, amounted to an Israeli defeat. That was clear, but had Israel’s government too lost its will, as it might seem, to continue the draining argument with its most important ally on the eve of what seemed to be the most dangerous phase of the war as it threatened to spread to the north of Israel, regionally and perhaps even with Iran itself.

There is no denying that there has been a dramatic change in Gaza. But why? 

Reset and Resequencing

What we may be seeing is a strategic reset, or rather a strategic resequencing.  Israel has fought the war over the last six months as an extension of the October 7 attacks itself.  In other words, Israel fought to defeat the invader and to try to free the hostages, ultimately to create a new reality in Gaza that guarantees no more October 7th’s will happen.  But this “Gaza first” was reactive.  The nature of the war was dictated by Hamas, and now that Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) organizations themselves admit that one of the generals Israel assassinated in Damascus last week was the operational mastermind planning the attack, it is clear that it was the war Iran had chosen for Israel that it must fight. 

But Hamas has been whittled down, not entirely but enough that the final push can be deferred a few weeks.  To be clear, both fundamental strategic considerations as well as public opinion in the population create certainty that it will still happen, but the sequencing changed. The goals Israel set– to destroy Hamas’ operations capacity and ensure it rules over nobody and no territory — were both correct and uncompromisable. But for the moment, as Iran weighs its response to Israel’s strike on its IRGC conclave in Damascus that killed so many top officials, and as Hizballah and Israel slowly escalate along the Israeli-Lebanese border, Gaza has become a temporary sideshow.  

It is all now about Iran itself and the potential for an attack on Israel from Iran, though NOT from Iranian territory itself.  The head of the octopus is about to act, not just its tentacles.

The Biden team the nuisance

On this, Israel is alone.  While mystifying, the United States could continue in its delusion that somehow Iran does not control its proxies.  It is some sort of extension of a longer-term delusion that explains away Iran’s most dangerous behaviors as the actions of mythological “wildcat hardliners” throughout the life of the Iranian revolutionary regime.  It was a convenient delusion since it ultimately not only fails to hold Iran to account, but actually establishes a framework for inaction (“it would validate hardliners”). 

But the American “support” promised is really a poisoned chalice.  Indeed, as the threats mounted, the administration behind the scenes was trying to signal Iran that its strike should not be so “inappropriate” as to trigger a direct Israeli response onto Iran as CENTCOM officials said.  The United States embassy in Jerusalem also signaled its citizens on April 12 to stay away from the periphery land of Israel – clearly another message to Tehran that an attack on Tel Aviv – as opposed to peripheral communities in Israel – would be seen as inappropriate and could trigger such a withering Israeli response.  Also, Axios reporter Barak Ravid – who serves as the mouthpiece for the Biden administration to Israeli audiences – reported on April 13 that Untied States had “asked Israel to notify the U.S. ahead of any retaliation against Iran and for the US to have a say before decisions are made.”  

The Biden administration clearly is more worried about an Israeli retaliation to an Iranian strike than they are about the strike itself.  It seeks to run interference to avoid a decisive Israeli action against Iran – in fear of the collapse of its twin-pillared paradigm (advancing a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue and seeking a strategic regional condominium with the Islamic Revolutionary Regime of Iran) – which in effect serves to save Hamas and Iran from defeat. But the U.S. loss of nerve and its attempts to leash its ally, Israel, run against the underlying realities of the situation and will fail.  

The character of the Iranian regime’s strategy is to manipulate rather than fight, given its inherent weaknesses and great vulnerabilities. To do so, it employs disinformation, especially disinformation that stimulates Western concepts that serve their interests.  So, it taps into the fear of apocalyptic escalation which has always been employed by Tehran to deter the United States from taking actions against them, and lately to deter the United States from responding meaningfully to its regional rampages. The apocalyptic messaging from Tehran thus is likely to frighten the United States into restraining Israel in its responses to some form of Iranian attack (including by its proxies) and to further incite tensions between Jerusalem and Washington. Thus, the more Tehran observes the rupture in US-Israeli relations, the more emboldened it feels to act against Israel even more aggressively and dangerously via its proxies.

Shahrazade, gorillas and Majnouns

But this reality is reaching its turning point.  Ever since October 7th, Iran has been the grand puppeteer of its proxies, managing and directing the show across the region. Israel has reacted; which is a position in which one can win only with immense difficulty.  As noted, Iran – the civilization that gave the world chess – is the master chess player.  And in chess, the side that has a plan and orchestrates the board to force the opponent into constant reaction wins.  An Iranian dissident, Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, once told me that when strategically parrying with the regime in Iran, one must remember that one is playing chess with a gorilla.  When he starts to lose, he will simply lean over, and either grab your king and eat it, or just overturn the board.  Either way, all rules are off and you sit for a moment paralyzed collecting yourself and measuring the circumstances as you digest what happened.  In that moment of unpredictability, the gorilla has reset the rules and is back in control.  To win against the Ayatollahs – who carefully move their pieces, manipulate and at times overturn the board – Tehran’s adversary must himself become the gorilla.  Or perhaps to shift metaphors to a regional cultural context, Iran’s adversary must act as if it allowed the Jinn (Genies) to possess one’s soul, which serves as the crazed extension of the Jinn’s insanity (Janana). The possessed becomes a “Majnoun” – a crazed and dangerous loose cannon. Whether gorilla or Majnoun, Iran’s opponent must leave Iran paralyzed in fear derived from its appreciation that its strategy of manipulation has failed because it depends on the opponent’s predictability, which is suddenly gone.  

Power itself does not frighten Iran since it sees real power in strategy and manipulation, not hardware.  This is the land that brought us Shehrazade and A 1001 Nights.  The cycle is not about adventures and eroticism – though there is much—but those are merely vehicles to seize the imagination and captivate the audience. Neither is it about the cycle’s attention-deficit-disorder arrangement of tales, where one is started but not finished and then another and another, nor even the onion-like wrapping of everything where the tales are eventually finished one by one after they all were started.  The main theme of the cycle is that the most abject creature manifesting weakness itself in this tale – a woman condemned to death by a misogynist king for the next dawn – slowly uses her tales not only to buy time, but to slowly seize the soul of King Shahriyar, and in so doing, reawakens his humanity, empathy and capability for love. She controls her environment through the seduction of the story telling, but the aim is that the symbol of weakness controls and triumphs over the soul of the symbol of absolute power.  

Again, power does not frighten Iran.  In contrast, loosing control of the situation does terrorize and paralyze Iran since it denies it the ability to be Shahrazad, to manipulate its weakness into domination of the soul of the absolute power. 

Israel has an opportunity to respond to Iran with the understanding that this may be its one chance to retake the regional strategic initiative and turn the region’s strategic momentum against Iran and place it in Israel’s hands. Israel has both the opportunity and the imperative to be the gorilla, to allow the Jinn to take over its body and “go crazy” (Majnoun).

Iran’s Hobson’s choice; trapped and no way out

In this context, one must remember how vulnerable Iran actually is. In terms of power, they are weaker, but they are the master no less than Shahrazad of the phycological strategy of manipulation.

Just the mere threat of an Israeli reaction has tanked Iran’s currency and caused a bank-run. But Israel has laid a trap – clearly accidentally since the strike on the Iranian generals’ conclave appears to have been more an extension of the war being waged to destroy Hamas and degrade Hizballah and not a move imagined in the context of a regional war.  Whether intentional or not, though, it has placed Iran in the impossible position of having to react to Israel rather than be the one pulling the strings that forces Israel to react.  Moreover, it would be even more out of character than allowing itself to be forced to react to respond from its territory directly into Israel.  And yet, the internal pressures on the regime are mounting to something substantial:

  • Some IRGC types have long argued that timidity is the greatest threat, and that divine intervention leading to the great victory and return of the Imam will come only in the framework of resolute will. In this respect, there was two years ago a poster in Iran of Musa (Moses) berating his generals for timidity in the face of the threat of Pharoah’s army, and that salvation comes only by Musa’s resolute rejection of the timid, cautious path.
  • The regime banks on an image of toughness and terror. Not responding tarnishes that and threatens the regime.
  • Iranians have in recent months laughed and ridiculed their leadership for its big talk and small action in the war. These episodes of ridicule are now exploding like a volcano in the absence of a response.
  • The belief that escalation might so freak out Washington that it could lead Washington in fear to support a universal (Hamas and Hizballah) UN Security Council ceasefire resolution that may be Chapter 7, which would leave Hamas in place and Hizballah unaddressed. This is not an unrealistic expectation, by the way.

And yet, the bottom line remains unchanged:

  • ⁠Iran’s being reactive in response violates Iranian strategic character. They play chess and pride themselves that the essence of their strategy is anchored to manipulation over their adversary. Manipulative control not only is effective, but nourishes a sense of intellectual and spiritual superiority. In chess, if you are forced into a reactive game, you lost. You have to set the agenda and force the opponent into reaction. As such, Iran fears this is a chess-like trap set by Israel that they must avoid falling into, and instead of impulsively reacting, must do something unexpected that restores to them manipulative control of events.
  • Iran could launch a large number of long-range missiles, but few if any will get through due to the Arrow missile defense. That itself could be a humiliation.
  • Israel’s response could be withering directly back onto Iran, and could involve critical economic targets (ports, refineries), regime targets that can encourage opposition revolt (IRGC headquarters, Basiji HQ etc. , take out the drone and missile factories upon which not only Iran, but its proxies and Russia rely, and of course the nuclear program.
  • Israel would likely destroy Hizballah, leaving Iran without its terror-hub proxy.
  • Iranians would die, which would incur wrath against the regime for bringing this down on them.

Overall, this limits the chances of any response directly from Iran’s territory which could expose the limits and vulnerabilities of Iran’s power.

But inaction also humiliates.  The public ridicule the regime faces for its lack of reaction can be fatal.  So Tehran now finds itself in an impossible Hobson’s choice, and will be forced with a substantial degree of seriousness to react – bad as reacting rather than acting is – in hopes that it can then proceed to slowly regain its control as the grand puppeteer.

Israel’s golden opportunity

But how Israel responds to Iran at this point is perhaps the most important event of this war – and perhaps the most important event in the region in decades. 

Iran has severe weaknesses. The same way as Shahrazad maneuvered, Iran has no alternative but to leverage its position through manipulation and bravado in order to maneuver the enemy from strength into weakness. To be manipulative, it needs to control the regional environment. It needs predictable opponents. If Israel uses any Iranian action as a pretext to turn this war directly into Tehran, to become the gorilla in the room, then this becomes something the Iranians cannot handle.

As such, Israel has for the next few weeks the opportunity to move from the local (Gaza, even Lebanon) to the strategic (Iran itself) by Jerusalem’s becoming the gorilla or Majnoun, or even worse, the Majnoun-gorilla. Israel thus faces that moment in which it has the opportunity to hit the strategic reset button and take control over strategic initiative in the region. 

In this context, continuing a public spat with the United States over what is for the next few weeks the strategic sideshow, simply had to be shut down and deferred until the proverbial bigger fish is fried. Moreover, the one aspect of Gaza that Israel cannot defer however is the attempt to save as many hostages as possible.  So Jerusalem essentially used the strategic reduction of importance for the moment of the Gaza front and threw to the United States control over the hostage-for-ceasefire talks to both leave no stone unturned in bringing the poor souls home, as well as to buy in much bigger support – or maybe even to preoccupy Washington as a diversion — when it really matters right now given what may happen with Iran.

In the long run, Israel simply cannot win the war thrust upon it in Gaza on October 7 without going all the way on Rafiah and maintaining stabilizing operations through occupation for quite some time (including keeping the north of Gaza largely empty and buffer zones all around), but the sequence of Gaza first, then Hizballah and eventually Iran has been upturned.

For the moment, Israel must become the Majnoun-gorilla.

Progressive Neo-Colonialism and Israel’s Second War of Independence

By Dave Wurmser, Ph.D

Israel is poised to enter Rafiah in Gaza and the adjacent “Philadelphia” corridor bordering Egypt to destroy the remainder of Hamas’ organized forces in Gaza and begin to establish security control over the whole salient.  In a desperate attempt to convince Israel yet again to desist from doing this, the Biden administration now proposes to establish a joint-Israeli military command.  While this alone ushers in battalions of problems, the most disturbing aspect of this is the trend it represents of trying to Americanize the Gaza conflict – increasingly as a neutral between the IDF and Hamas – with increasing US involvement.  This follows the establishing of an American port, and reports that the US has started budgeting a plan for a “peacekeeping force” to be deployed to Gaza. The logic of this leads to one place, even though it is not yet fully conceived as US policy or not yet ready to be unveiled: in order to prioritize avoiding further damage to the Gazan population, the US injects itself, perhaps even its own forces, as a buffer between them and Israel ostensibly to ordinate with the latter but really to protect the former from the latter.

The determination in Washington to wring from Israel’s hands its agency originates not only in a measure of policy despair arising from Israel’s determination to proceed to victory rather than begin to wind down.  It emerges from an increasing embrace of a domineering progressivism willing to pursue a neo-colonial annulling of Israeli sovereignty to advance a paradigm fundamentally at odds with the world of concepts that Israel now labors in the post-October 7 world. 

It will fail not only because Israel is so determined, but because the October 6 paradigms the administration holds are detached from reality, and because the increasingly progressive aims of the administration are unaligned with American values and culture.

A clash of paradigms

Since October 6, Israel has two critical strategic objectives in Gaza: to return the hostages and to ensure that another October 7-like attack will never happen again. Both aims emanate from the most rudimentary function of government: to secure its citizens. 

The United States rhetorically agrees, but it hopes to attain these two goals by advancing the very same paradigms that governed Israel until October 6 and catastrophically failed: grant Palestinians every carrot possible to ease their hatred and build up their investment in maintaining calm.  In doing so, Washington thus hopes (and still does) to diminish the grievance fueling the rage animating Palestinian life and establish a deterrent to discourage departure from that paradigm. But Washington also frames this paradigm in the context of another: addressing the Palestinian problem insulates it from regional political forces and thus denies the region’s radicals the premier issue that galvanizes their following.  Moreover, a regional condominium to secure regional calm can be reached with the region’s premier challenger, Iran. Thus, Washington believed in two paradigms: 

  • a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem – which was a question of Palestinian need for self-governance and borders, not Israel’s existence — was essential, viable and would finally grant Israel its peace; and 
  • Iran could be reasoned with enough to reach a regional condominium to secure regional stability, if even at the cost of a modicum of accommodation of Iranian strategic objectives.

Beyond this more traditional but sadly flawed views of the problem, a rising progressive impulse grips the administration. Progressives hold that the violence of the American system and culture inherent to its slave-trade dominated founding perpetuates itself dressed deceptively in the clothes of freedom to perpetuate the aims of subjugation. Thus, the roots of Western political structure must be destroyed and replaced, not only its form adjusted. In foreign policy, this is paralleled by the idea that the inherent violence of colonialism perpetuates itself in the clothes of international order and sovereignty to preserve it subjugation. Thus, the roots of the international system must be fundamentally changed and “colonial” states dismantled and replaced. Israel as a colonialist state is thus the cause, the symbol and the poster-child of evil, and thus its very existence governs feverish levels of progressive fury born of the certainty of righteousness.

The Biden administration deepened its attachment after October 7 to the first two pre-October 6 paradigms, but it now also allows the third paradigm, the progressive rejection of the liberal West, to consume traditional American affinity with Israel. 

And yet, the vast majority of Israelis reject not only the progressive paradigm and the national suicide it requires, but also the first two paradigms.  Those in the governing coalition as well as even some parties out of it (Like Lieberman’s Israel Beiteynu), are post-paradigm collapse – all pre-October 6 paradigms, not just one.  Not only did the governing coalition in Jerusalem, but Israelis as a whole realize that Iran’s regime is entering a new phase of going in for final encirclement, strangulation and destruction of Israel, and thus no paradigm of arrangement or understanding can in any way be reached with Tehran’s tyranny, it also learned that the two-state paradigm was a fatal mirage.  Along the way, a flurry of underlaying assumptions collapsed:

  • Entrusting its security in any way to another force – either by subcontracting control over the area to that force or by trying to deter that force into behavior – failed catastrophically; 
  • Technology and qualitative military superiority can supplement manpower, territory, will, vigilance and fidelity to belief in the righteousness of Israel’s cause, but it can never replace them; 
  • Any Palestinian political entity will mobilize all aspects of Palestinian life and society with one purpose in mind: to advance the immutable goal of destroying Israel. Not only Hamas, but the PLO as well continue to understand Palestinian nationalism as the annulment of Jewish national identity and rights, and thus any power or sovereign benefit they secure is weaponized as part of a strategy to carry the aspiration of destruction of the annulled Jewish identity forward; 
  • Disdain and contempt, not grievance and despair, animate Palestinian rage.  The more the grievance was answered and the more despair was allayed, the deeper Palestinian contempt of Israel grew and the more deadly, relentless, and enflamed the violence against not only Israel, but the Jewish people and the very concept of Judaism itself, became;
  • Displaying a conciliatory nature did not purchase global credit to be redeemed as an insurance policy to address the consequences of the failed conciliation;
  • The Palestinian issue continued being the vehicle for both preserving and expressing regional and global pathologies; 
  • Feeding Palestinian aspirations nourishes and preserves rather than diminishes their use – as it had been intended by the Soviets — as part of a global assault (progressive or Islamist) on the West; 
  • Similarly, feeding Palestinian aspirations invigorated the Islamist imperative to finish Muhammad’s massacre of the Jews of Khaybar and eliminate all remaining Jews;
  • Obtaining Arab acquiescence in Israel’s existence failed to make Israel a normal nation and the Jews a normal people like any other and thus failed to retire once and for all history’s oldest ideology: Jew-hatred. Despite the profound hope to the contrary, the line recited every Passover that “in every generation there will arise those who will finish us off” cannot be omitted, and the imperative of remembering and vanquishing Amalek (the paradigm of those who seek our destruction) can never safely be forgotten; 
  • All Jews, not only Israelis, were under attack in an all-hands on deck moment on and since October 7; and finally,
  • The idea of “never again” demands payment through the steep cost of sacrifice and bravery of each new generation of Jews.

All the ideas and assumptions – both paradigms — that had commanded broad-based Israeli confidence and seized the obsession of Western foreign policy elites until October 6 were as mangled and destroyed among Israelis as the Israeli victims were themselves physically on October 7. 

And yet, both these paradigms and their series of underlying assumptions are being salvaged and re-sold to the Israelis to convince them to revert to an October 6 mindset. And all are rejected profoundly by Israelis who see each of them as folly that will lead to their destruction.

The result is that Jerusalem and Washington now live in different conceptual galaxies separated by unbridgeable space. No diplomacy or persuasion can bridge that gap. Israel is not acting out of ideology, policy preference or academic conflict-resolution theory. It forged its new paradigm primordially by the screams, blood and tears suffered by Jews as they had not suffered on any day since the gas chambers in Auschwitz, Dachau and other factories of death were destroyed on the last days of the Holocaust.  A cornered person facing a stark choice of death or resistance is not able to negotiate the terms in which he surrenders his life.  Neither is Israel. 

Across the seas, the Biden administration understands it cannot convince Israel – not only the government, but the vast majority of Israelis – of preserving the two previously-shared paradigms. And yet, it is unwilling to reconsider and travel with the Israelis in parallel and revisit its two paradigms either. Moreover, in addition to these two original paradigms, the Biden administration – and certainly many of its most influential staffers – appears increasingly motivated by ideology and creeping progressive neo-imperialism born of race-based “decolonization” ideology. In this progressive world view, Israel was invaded unprovoked, but its very existence is a provocative colonialist offense. Israeli women were raped, but rape is a Cri de Coeur of a desperate resistance. Babies were beheaded, but babies are settlers too and future oppressive soldiers. 

And thus, unable to shed its first two informing paradigms, and dangerously drifting toward a progressive outlook, the administration and its progressive camp in Washington seeks to use every lever of power to wring from Israel’s hands any agency and divert it toward an end it is determined to reject.  And while it is not unfolding along the pattern of the colonial invasions of old, the direction is relentless – to reduce Israel to a pliable vassal. For progressives, like their Bolshevik ancestors, power is an instrument to be used, not a device to be feared, to force a revolutionary idea into dominance. And the more progressive the Biden administration becomes, the more it displays these traits of tyranny and predation.

Who will prevail?

To consider which collection of paradigms – Israel’s or the increasingly progressive Biden administration’s — will prevail, one has to examine the stakes each possesses in vindicating its understanding.

In terms of the first two paradigms – the two-state solution and the condominium with Iran – failure is inevitable since both are paradigms anchored to a perception of reality that collapsed on October 7.  Moreover, Israel’s determination to survive is stronger than any foreign nation’s policy preferences.  

The  rising progressive dominance in the administration, however, is more complex. For progressives, the battle against not only Israel, but Judaism itself is one of ideological dominance and survival. The hatred of Jews – being an inextricable part of the Judeo-Christian philosophical culture that gave birth to America – let alone its anti-Zionist component, has become the vessel of all Western ideological pathologies to attack the idea of America. Thus, it cannot be surrendered any more than can the entire political edifice of progressivism.  It is truly the saloon in the old West; no town is big enough for both progressives and Jews, let alone Zionism.  This is undoubtedly a formidable, indeed twilight struggle of sorts.

And yet, the nature of Israeli sentiment is not only equally determined, but more so because it is not irreducible – it is fighting its second War of Independence – but personal.  Four millennia of stubborn Jewish survival will not end here. But it will prevail also because it emanates from the same sources of the American revolution: the impulse toward freedom by a people with a strong sense of independence.  When Menachem Begin declared the revolt against the British in the darkness of World War II, he quoted Patrick Henry’s famous speech, ending it with the cry for liberty at all costs – and thus he called his movement by the Hebrew word for “liberty,” Herut.  

The roots of a combined quest and destiny of freedom between the Jewish people and the American enterprise reach much further back, even further back than the frequent Biblical references of Abraham Lincoln. They reach back to the foundation of a unique American culture and are enshrined in the exchange of letters between Rabbi Moses Seixas of Newport (Touro Synagogue) and general Washington in 1790.  Rabbi Seixas, hoping to secure equal rights of participation in the American experiment of freedom, wrote to General George Washington: 

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine:

Rabbi Seixas here sets out a doctrine of freedom that defines America as a whole, not just its policy toward the Jews. The status of the Jews in the new country is seen to be the vehicle for establishing this doctrine of freedom, and a bellwether of its implementation.  In true Abrahamic tradition, Seixas suggests, the nation that treats its Jews well is guaranteed to thrive, and the ones that do not, are seen as doomed.

But what was the weld that fuses the American and Jewish story of freedom? Note that Rabbi Seixas attaches the word “generously affording to all” when asking that Jews be allowed the rights others will have. 

General Washington repeated those words in strikingly similar phrases back to Rabbi Seixas in his response:

All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.  It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Washington’s repetition of phrases not only validated Seixas’ words as is his own – but he made a marked change in words from Seixas’ phrase — “generously afforded” — to his own “all possess alike.” This change captured his intent to frame the Jewish question not as a governmental policy or preference – man-made granted reights — but as part of the overall inalienable, inherent right that all men are endowed by their creator at Mount Moriah, which echoed the declaration of independence’s “We are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.”  In other words, Washington deliberately intertwined the Jewish story in America with the American story of freedom. 

And it was thus through his answer to the Jews, and through his vision for the rights of the Jewish community then that he enunciated a much broader, foundational doctrine of tolerance and non-sectarian, and yet faith-based (rights endowed by our creator—inherently possesses, not generously granted) foundation and vision of America. The nation’s treatment of Jews was fused with the foundational idea of the very independence of the nation. And the treatment of Jews profoundly reflectes the health, power and survival of America and its central founding idea.

In short, from day one, and frankly all the way back to the earliest colonists, the American vision of itself was never distant from the Jewish question and the emergence of the vision of the US as the new Jerusalem.  It is what led the Steinbeck family to come to Palestine and try to set up an agricultural commune – only to be destroyed by the Ottomans.  It was what led Abraham Lincoln to contemplate raising an army of Jews to liberate Palestine and reestablish Israel.  And it was what led Mark Twain to say that the Holy land should be returned to the ownership of the Jews since only they seemed to have a spiritual attachment to it and ever did anything productive with it.

And so too now.  Standing with Israel during its Second War of Independence at this moment is not only a foreign policy preference, but it is intertwined with the test of our lifetime of our own land. And as long as America remains true to the founding ideals of America and reaffirms its grasp of the nation’s mettle and essence, thus will the progressive challenge fail in America and so too will its advocacy to turn hostile to Israel fail as well.

Are the Democrats beginning to step in the proverbial buffalo patties on Israel?

By David Wurmser, Ph.D.

The last week – corresponding ominously to the Ides of March — the Democratic establishment in the United States laid down the gauntlet to Israel’s government. A full court effort was made not only to weaken and oust Israel’s elected government, but to lean on Israel so hard that it would reconsider entering the last Hamas strongholds in Gaza in Rafiah and the Philadelphia corridor. 

The campaign took many forms and reached a crescendo on March 20.  In that one day, no less than three letters were released by progressive Jewish donors, progressive Jewish luminaries, and Democratic congressmen, demanding the Biden Administration take a much more hostile line against Israel. Across the pond, the United Kingdom announced that if Israel enters Rafiah, England will impose an arms embargo on Israel.  Canada did not wait and announced also on the 20th it was also imposing such an embargo.  Even Germany’s leader announced on the 20th that it was inconceivable that Israel enter Rafiah and that if it did so, there would be grave consequences – essentially echoing the U.K. position.  Moreover, he announced that Germany already was reevaluating all its defense contracts with Israel. 

Back in the States, a series of articles appeared a week earlier by “gurus” of Arab-Israeli affairs on the left side of the spectrum, such as Martin Indyk and Thomas Friedman, saying the United States had lost confidence in Israel’s prime minister.  Also in the week of March 11, Vice President Kamala Harris used a formulation generally reserved in American discourse of the most inimical tyrants and not democratic allies – differentiate “between the government of Israel and the people of Israel” – to describe US policy toward Israel.  And finally, Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer presented a shrill attack on Israel’s prime minister, lumping him together an as an enemy of peace on par with Hamas and essentially demanding new elections in Israel since the people of Israel have lost faith in the prime minister “who lost his way.”  On the 20th, Schumer followed up with another hostile act. Prime Minister Netanyahu was to give a briefing to both the Republican and Democratic caucus in Congress, but Majority Leader Schumer barred the Democratic caucus from meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

It was perhaps the most hostile week ever faced by Israel in the United States since its creation.

But then, suddenly, the next day, Majority Leader Schumer retreated and announced he was open to inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress.  Furthermore, on the heels of his call to oust the Israeli government earlier in the week – and after major donors said brazenly in their letter that the Biden team must lambast and oppose Israel because of the electoral threat emerging in key districts – Schumer asked that Israel not become a partisan issue.  In the terms of modern Washington, the unprecedented attack on Israel was followed within 24 hours by an unprecedented, humiliating retreat by the majority leader.

The Senate majority leader’s whiplash-inducing behavior should be examined very carefully since it reveals much. Indeed, it is key to understanding where the issue really stands right now.

It appears that the Biden team and Schumer imagined that they could wrap an anti-Israeli policy in garb focused on the unpopularity of Prime Minister Netanyahu not only in Israel, but among American Jews.  Vice Presdident Harris’ statement aimed squarely at that message: there’s a difference between the Israeli people and being anti-Israeli on the one hand and being anti-Netanyahu but not anti-Israeli on the other. So they thought they could appease the progressives by using the formula of Netanyahu’s being at fault for everything as the bridge to span over the chasm and embrace the anti-Israeli policies the progressives demand. That assumption, which is what Thomas Friedman, Martin Indyk and Vice President Kamala Harris peddled lately – indeed what the US intelligence community itself revealed in its estimate (also released publicly last week) and which Schumer plunged into, failed. Using the formulation, not only did Schumer fail to damage Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, he apparently failed to do so even within the US Jewish community.  The reason is that the assumption is flawed.  A Pew poll of the US Jewish community’s attitude toward the Israeli government from earlier in the month found that a decided majority (+10%), namely 54%, of American Jews hold a favorable view of the Israeli government.[1]    

Schumer is inescapably absorbing a tremendous political humiliation in his retreat. Not only was Schumer the point man for the administration in the Democratic leadership, but atop the Jewish community, in the last week in calling for new elections and blocking all access by Netanyahu to Congress, and thus his retreat is not just a minor political event.  The fact that Schumer faced so great and swift a backlash that it induced a spectacularly rapid display of political gymnastics is highly revealing. It means liberal Jews, who still do not like Netanyahu, nonetheless saw through this maneuver as simply a transparent scheme to be anti-Israeli while not appearing so.  And while, this is important, it also exposed something even more important than just the mood of the Jewish community.  It was a test between the power of the progressives and their tantrum-induced threats to bolt, and the traditionally liberal US Jewish community.

Nor is that test just a Jewish question. Even in terms of the narrow question of electoral politics in the much-discussed case of Michigan, the administration seems to make baffling, inconsistent choices if the state really matters so much. In Michigan, the progressive protest seems quite limited since the uncommitted vote – which was heralded as the protest vote – was almost exactly the same percentage as President Obama mustered in his last presidential election in Michigan. Moreover, it would seem that whatever marginal gain President Biden may gain in Michigan by lurching toward the progressive side is lost – and by far larger margins – by his decision (also on March 20) to force a 50% mandate of electric vehicles in US car sales rather than punt the decision to after November. This decision will likely cost him precious powerful autoworkers’ votes in droves – a community that constituted the backbone of industrial American blue-collar workers’ support for the Democrats — compared to the trickle of Arab voters he gains by abandoning Israel. In other words, if the margins are so tight in Michigan, and the state is so critical, then he paid a dollar in political capital to get a dime back.

So Senate majority leader Schumer lunged toward the progressives but then had to recoil back to the more center-left Jews.

Indeed, for him to overnight consider becoming an agent in bringing about a repeat of Netanyahu’s famous 2015 speech to Congress opposing the Obama administration’s JCPOA (“Iran nuclear”) deal and actually countenance inviting prime minister Netanyahu to address Congress jointly can only have happened if Schumer had faced a withering backlash from forces that matter to him. What are those forces that matter to him?

First is donors. The Democratic Party donor base on the national level still relies for more than 50% of its donations on liberal Jews. While some are progressive – like the Soros empire – others remain liberal and pro-Israeli.

Second are his voters. New York Jewish Democrats were loyal to him, but there is obviously an erosion that concerns him greatly in his own voter base in New York.  But recent polls –  a Sienna College poll in February — now suggest a majority (53-44%) of New York Jewish voters will vote not only Republican, but for Trump himself in the next elections.[2]  That the heart of Schumer’s own liberal Jewish voting block – New York state Jews – are nearly 10% more likely to vote for Trump that Biden is an earthquake.

Third, he is the Senate Majority Leader, and thus he is keen to ensure the Senate remains majority Democrat so that he keeps his leadership role. Up until today it was clear his concern was that the progressive threat to his majority leadership was emerging. Voices were challenging him and signaling he may face a challenge from that side. In order to stay on top of the Democratic caucus, he likely calculated he had to tack to the progressive left. And being a Jewish leader of such stature and reputation of being pro-Israeli, he felt immune from the potential backlash for taking such a line.  But what appears to be happening is that the centrist Democratic senators in the country where there is a significant Jewish vote are in danger of shifting to a Republican seat. If the Israeli issue causes a backlash among centrists and liberal Jews, he therefore may remain as the head of the Democratic caucus in more progressive garb, but the Democrats lose the majority of the Senate. One of the most important of those seats is currently held by the retiring Democratic senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. Maryland does have a substantial Jewish vote, most of whom consider themselves as liberals. And yet, Governor Hogan, who only last month announced as the Republican opponent to replace Cardin’s seat, has pulled substantially ahead in the polls against the Democratic candidate, David Trone, and Maryland may lose its Democratic seat. That alone would cost Schumer his majority leadership.

It is thus likely that Schumer is beginning to calculate the danger of losing the center, especially the liberal Jewish vote, the liberal Jewish donations, and even his own liberal Jewish base in New York – the three most important forces in his world.  The convergence of those three factors in backlash against his drift toward progressive positions on Israel would explain the humiliating and sudden turnabout that he displayed on March 21st in saying he is open to inviting Netanyahu to speak to Congress.

What this tells us is that pressure on Israel is right now may be at its apex. A backlash is beginning.  If the administration pushed any harder against Israel, it proceeds with great political risk unless it secures Israel’s indulgence or acquiescence – which at this stage it appears increasingly unlikely to grant. To descend into a bruising public fight with Israel would, in contrast, trigger the same backlash more broadly that Schumer just faced which forced him to back off.

For Israel, then, this moment is the most dangerous.  It faces immense pressure, and the administration is poised to lay more pressure on if it can get away with it.


The ‘if” is the key. Going forward, it appears that only when Israel demurs, abstains from taking the argument public and pushing back publicly, thus making it easier on the Biden administration to drift further toward appeasing the progressives. Biden will happily take whatever Israel allows him to appease the progressives.  In other words, things will get worse for Israel if it cuts its opponents, like the progressives, slack by making it easy on Biden and the Democratic leadership to drift that way without a cost to relations with Israel.

In contrast, it will peak and begin to get better for Israel as it begins to double down on its convictions and forces the issue into the public debate and onto the American political establishment. In short, in a real showdown, the backlash against selling Israel out comes into play and is dominant.  Schumer’s contortions worthy of a weasel is the perfect litmus test of that.

Which way will it go?  In the end, Israel is operating out of deep conviction rather than policy or ideological preferences – and it is doing so largely under a national consensus. October 7 was not only a trauma for Israel, but also a wake-up call.  Israel had not internalized that every aspect of Palestinian life – including any territory surrendered – was mobilized and contemplated by all Palestinians with a singular obsession of eradicating Israel. Schools and sports, health ministries to nature organization, were mobilized to prepare and indoctrinate with that singular focus. And antisemitism was cultivated as a strategic weapon internationally to isolate Jews and destroy not only the connection between Israel and key Western allies, but between those societies and the Jewish population.

And that is what Schumer and the administration miss.  The very fabric of the golden age of American Judaism – and the mutually enriching 350-year mutual history in this land – are being ripped.  The story so beautifully symbolized by the exchange of letters between General George Washington and Rabbi Seixas of Newport is in danger of being ended.

American values lay at the core of the flourishing of the American Jewish community.  So when the administration abandons Israel to Hamas, when a party’s leadership and political operatives argue that a small, radical group of progressive voters who openly declare their hostility to American values is more important than the legacy of the American-Jewish common story and values, then it inescapably is also understood by American Jews as a surrender of the American street to the antisemites who make their genocidal aims clear in campuses and business, hospitals and street protests. Indeed, when the US distances itself from Israel, it is inherently understood not only by American Jews also as an abandonment of them — leading to an existential anxiety Jews in American had not known until now – but also by Americans more generally about how deeply the assault on our national values has progressed.

And that is bad politics.

[1] “Poll shows 54% of US Jews have favorable view of Israeli government,” The Times of Israel, March 21, 2024 (7:51PM).

[2] Andrew Bernard, “Majority of New York Jewish voters intend to vote for Trump says new poll,” The JC, February 22, 2024.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.