An Arabic proverb goes: “My brother and I against my cousin, my cousin and I against the stranger”. In accordance with our reality in Israel and Gaza, we can translate this as “Bibi and Gantz against Hamas, and Bibi and Hamas against Jihad.” This is the implication of Israel’s November 12 assassination of the rogue Islamic Jihad leader, Baha Abu al-Atta. At a well-publicized press conference, Netanyahu made it clear that the operation was supported by the Cabinet and his political rival, Benny Gantz, while reiterating that the target was Jihad and not Hamas. This time, unlike previous ones, Hamas is not blamed for everything that happens in Gaza, although it is the sovereign, but the Jihad alone is accused. Overall, by killing the Jihad leader, Israel has done a great favour to Hamas, since the Jihad was hindering Hamas from reaching an Egyptian-mediated agreement with Israel.
As the stars lined up, the galaxies stood still and Abu al-Atta was executed. A precision-guided missile also struck a building in the heart of Damascus, executing Akram al-Ajouri, Abu al-Atta’s direct commander, who had close ties to the Iranian Al Quds commander, Qasem Soleimani. This ingenious act was clearly intended to kill two birds with one stone: to release Hamas from the Jihad’s pressure, and to signal to Iran that Israel is not going anywhere, and that Damascus and Gaza can be equally hit.
Another proverb says “I will speak with you, my bride, so that the neighbour hears.” In Netanyahu’s language: while we attack the Jihad, we really mean Iran. Although the missiles are fired from Gaza, the real concern is that Iranian missiles can be fired from Yemen. These can hit every Israeli citizen’s bedroom window, just as precisely as the Israeli missile entered Abu al-Atta’s bedroom window in Gaza.
The Israeli attacks provoked waves of rockets from Gaza, and schools shut down as far north as Tel Aviv. A million pupils stayed home, reflecting a basic state of panic in the government. Its concern, entirely justified, is that Israel has been abandoned. Trump has deserted the Middle East and shifted America’s Iranian policy by 180 degrees. Only yesterday he was Netanyahu’s friend and the backbone of the latter’s tough policy toward Iran. Today, Trump is mocking Bibi and bragging that he, Trump, is supported by 98 percent of Israelis, so that he can fill Netanyahu’s place with someone else if needed.
Indeed, Trump has abandoned Israel (except for declarations that don’t cost him much while pleasing his evangelical base). He has retreated vis-à-vis Iran and intensified the latter’s daring to the point that it attacked Saudi oil facilities with precision missiles, causing Israeli generals to lose sleep over what might fly toward them. The recent shutdown of Tel Aviv proves that Israeli citizens are exposed to Iranian missiles, which accounts for the end of their country’s strikes on Hezbollah and Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq. It is no coincidence that Hassan Nasrallah stressed in recent speeches that “those who hoped for a war between the US and Iran have been disappointed; the chances of such a war are extremely low.”
Israel’s well-known intelligence capabilities failed to predict the reversal of Trump’s policy in the Middle East. From now on, Israel must adapt to the fact that the United States does not consider “peace of the region and protecting Gulf energy sources” a strategic issue for American national security, for which it is prepared to pay with soldiers’ lives. Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian issue have become a burden which Trump is unwilling to bear. Israel is left alone in an environment where far-reaching changes are convulsing the Arab regimes.
As an example, let’s take the resurgence of the Arab Spring, when just this year two seemingly timeless regimes fell: that of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria and that of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan. Later, mass demonstrations broke out in Iraq and Lebanon, two states that had fallen to Iran. Thus it turns out that the United States does not want to get into this boiling cauldron to protect rotten regimes that are past their expiration date.
While Trump is begging to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and surrendering to Iranian aggression, Israel may be comforted by the fact that Iraqi anti-Iranian demonstrations are breaking out in Shi’ite population centres, while in Lebanon mass demonstrations demand the removal of all parties, crying “All means all, including Hezbollah”. So as soon as Nasrallah announced the American retreat from confrontation with Iran, he found himself facing millions of Lebanese coming out against him and his allies. In Lebanon and Iraq, the demands are similar. Both peoples want a non-sectarian regime that is secular, with separation of religion from state, an elimination of armed militias and the establishment of a modern welfare state. In light of this, full Iranian attention should be devoted to the Iraqi and Lebanese peoples. Given Iran’s stance on the 2011 Syrian uprising, its spiritual leader’s instruction is unequivocal: Suppress the democratic revolution by force.
Neither the economic sanctions nor the Israeli military pose the primary existential threat to the Iranian regime, but rather the Arab Spring and the fear it will become an Iranian Spring. After suppressing the Syrian revolution, Assad cemented his rule with the help of Russia. General Sisi succeeded in suppressing the Egyptian revolution, enabling the Saudis to breathe a sigh of relief. Yet it was then proven, once again, that the Arab Spring is a process of deep and evolving historical significance. It has broken out once more in Iraq and Lebanon, both of which had seemed to fall like ripe fruit to Iran following its victory in Syria. These processes catch Israel without a response. The interesting question is: Who is the enemy that threatens Israel’s existence today? Is it Iran? Or is it the democratic revolutions threatening to bring down Israel-friendly regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, known as the “moderate Sunni axis”?
The suppression of the Syrian revolution by Assad’s murderous regime has sparked hope in Israel. While the Iranian presence in Syria and Lebanon has created problems, the failure of the democratic revolutions has only strengthened the Israeli talking point that democracy is not suited to Arab culture. However, what is taking place in Sudan, Iraq and Lebanon shows that democracy is such a deep aspiration that Arab youths are willing to sacrifice their lives for it. The question is: Will Israel fight against these young people? Will the Iranian youth, who sooner or later will follow the Iraqi and Lebanese youth, also pose an existential danger to Israel? Does Israel expect that the Iranian regime will drown the Iraqi revolution in blood? This task will be entrusted to Qasem Soleimani, Israel’s sworn enemy, who in this case may become its friend.
The question of questions that Israel’s intelligence, leadership and citizens should ask themselves is this: What would happen if the Arab Spring were to knock on the doors of Ramallah and Gaza, and the slogan “Everyone means everyone, both Fatah and Hamas” were shouted by thousands of young Palestinians? What would happen if the impossible came true, and millions of young people from Tehran to Ramallah and Gaza took to the streets, establishing democratic regimes while overthrowing the dictators whom Israel trusted and knew how to deal with? In such a case, will Israel continue to directly occupy five million Palestinians before the eyes of the world, which has tired of the conflict dubbed by Trump as “another one of those tribal wars”?
What to do? Iron domes, magic wands and other missile defence systems are ineffective in the face of democratic ideas. Israel perceives itself as a democratic state and in the same breath maintains an occupation based entirely on military power. In doing so, it is no different from regimes like Iran and Russia, which cover their weaknesses through territorial conquests. The modern world now understands that a replacement for the acquisition of new territory is collaborative globalism through web platforms. Even the impending war between China, the US and Europe is about the control of technology and not natural resources.
Israel faces two alternatives: to move forward with humanity or to adhere to the old paradigms of “greater Israel” and the settlements, fulfilling a divine decree while preventing the freedom of the Palestinians. The action in Gaza, the arrangement with Hamas, the security coordination with Abu Mazen and the warm relationship with the Egyptian regime do not provide a response to the fundamental strategic questions confronting us.