It seemed like a good idea at the time, they said in Jerusalem on 8 October 2023.
Israel’s national security leaders were caught flat-footed by the 7 October attack by Hamas launched from the Gaza Strip, and you’d have to feel sorry for the poor saps if you were willing to overlook their hubris and gross negligence.
Norman Mailer explained how it probably went down: “We all congregated in the Director’s meeting room on the seventh floor for a bit of summitry, all of us, satraps, mandarins, lords paramount, padishahs, maharajahs, grand moguls, kingfish, the lot. And we sat there…It’s the only time in all these years when I saw so many brilliant, ambitious, resourceful men – just sitting there.”
Hamas is a Cold War creation and was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (and funded by Israel) in 1987, at the start of the First Intifada, to oppose the secular, nationalist Fatah organization, run by Yasser Arafat. The group is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hamas then opposed the peace efforts between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and opposed the Oslo Accords when rival Fatah renounced violence and recognized the existence of Israel as part of a two-state solution.
After 9-11, President George W. Bush, as part of his “Freedom Agenda,” supported the “Road map for peace,” a plan proposed by the Quartet on the Middle East (the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations). Unfortunately, the plan deadlocked and was overshadowed by the Second Intifada. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, frustrated, evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005 and rocket attacks, which started in 1994 when the Israeli Defense Forces left most of the Strip, jumped.
Bush insisted the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections go ahead and, when Hamas won, demanded it change its policies in exchange for recognition; Hamas refused. Hamas took control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority and Fatah in 2007, and the U.S. planned a coup to remove it, but failed. Instead of America’s Founding Fathers, Bush channeled Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “Democracy is like a tram. You ride it until you arrive at your destination, then you step off.”
Somewhere at Hamas HQ there is shrine to Ariel Sharon and George Bush.
According to journalist Seymour Hersh, Netanyahu made a deal with Qatar that it would fund Hamas because “Bibi was convinced that he would have more control over Hamas with the Qatari money” and “you can create a Frankenstein and keep control of it.” Netanyahu’s plan was to divide power between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, that was controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and “most of the time, Israeli policy was to treat the Palestinian Authority as a burden and Hamas as an asset.”
Qatar was the cutout, but will be hard to attack Doha as the al-Thani have the receipts and, if necessary, will disclose everything via Al-Jazeera which is more credible in the region (and much of the world) than any American or Israeli spokesman sputtering, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”It was good while it lasted and, in 2019, Netanyahu put it out there: “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas,” Netanyahu told his Likud party’s Knesset members in March 2019. “This is part of our strategy.”
And don’t just take BiBi’s word for it.
Israeli historian Adam Raz reports that Netanyahu’s policy from 2009 is “on the one hand, bolstering the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and, on the other, weakening the Palestinian Authority.” As a result, he turned Hamas “from a terror organization with few resources into a semi-state body.” To that end, Netanyahu allowed cash deliveries by Qatari envoys to Gaza (especially important after the Palestinian Authority cut off Hamas from further funding), leaked a top-secret military report on the potential repercussions of conquering Gaza to derail the diplomatic strategy of the previous Israeli government, and “continuously thwarted all the targeted assassinations [of Hamas leaders].”
Netanyahu’s strategy was similar to Iran’s strategy as Tehran pays over $100 million a year to Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, according to the U.S. State Department.
And the Hamas charter is clear about its goals, so a violent confrontation was inevitable, despite Hamas’s double-dipping.
Israel should have learned from America’s experience with the Afghan mujaheddin where a useful, well-funded vessel turned on its creator.
When the Red Army invaded Afghanistan on 24 December 1979, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the U.S. national security advisor, saw a chance to weaken the Soviet Union. In fact, on 3 July 1979 – five months before the Soviets intervened – President Carter authorized secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. That day, according to Brzezinski, “I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”
In December, he got his wish and on the day of the Soviet attack, Brzezinski wrote to Carter, “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.”
The war in Afghanistan ended on 15 February 1989 when the final Soviet forces withdrew across the Friendship Bridge into Soviet Central Asia. On 26 December 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved and Brzezinski, a son of the Polish aristocracy, had his revenge on the Reds.
The true cost of Brzezinski’s adventure was 14,453 dead and over 53,753 wounded Soviets, and
at least 800,000 dead, about 2 million wounded or disabled Afghans. 5 million Afghans (one-third of the prewar population of the country) fled to Pakistan and Iran. The U.S. and its allies were left to deal with the economic and social impact of the war, worsened by Western sanctions, when they invaded after the 9-11 attacks and started the unsuccessful twenty-year reconstruction project that, at its heart, was about reforming Pashtun culture to Western standards.
In 1998, Brzezinski declared, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”
The Soviet Union probably would have probably collapsed from its internal contradictions in a few years, anyway, and a few more years of economic stagnation in the USSR and satellites might have been worth it if it meant Osama bin Laden would only be known as the pious son of a Saudi construction magnate.
And those stirred-up Moslems are still a problem, especially for the Moslems of the non-stirred-up persuasion.
And after the Soviets left Afghanistan, the U.S. ignored the country, leaving Pakistan to create a settlement. Pakistan did so by helping the Taliban, former mujahideen that emerged in the early 1990s, to seize control of the country. In 1996, former mujahid bin Laden fled from Sudan to Afghanistan where he was welcomed by the Taliban.
So here we are: America’s bad choice in 1979 to support the mujahideen bit it twice – on 9-11, and on 15 August 2021 when the U.S. and its NATO were routed in Kabul. Israel’s bad choice of 1987 bit it on 7 October 2023 when Hamas attacked Israel, and is also biting the U.S.
The U.S. is staring at a string of strategic losses: the 2021 NATO defeat in Afghanistan; the stalemated NATO-Russia war in Ukraine, that will probably end in a negotiated settlement in 2024 in Russia’s favor; and a “defeat by association” with Israel as the televised razing of the Gaza Strip is viewed negatively by most of the world, resulting in protest marches and recalls of ambassadors from Jerusalem.
Though U.S. president Joe Biden says “We will continue to have Israel’s back,” the U.S. is looking increasingly isolated as it was one of only 14 nations that voted against a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution calling “for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all civilians, the protection of civilians and international institutions, and ensuring the safe passage of humanitarian aid into the [Gaza] Strip.”
The vote in the UNGA came after the U.S. vetoed two Security Council resolutions on the humanitarian situation in Gaza as they failed, it said, to affirm Israel’s right to self-defense.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was recently admonished by Middle East leaders that Washington’s acceptance of Israeli attacks on refugee camps, hospitals and apartment buildings “could shatter American influence for years to come.” And China and Russia could not be happier; their diplomats are no doubt reminding all and sundry that American weapons are killing innocent Palestinians, while they marvel at how easy their jobs have become.
And the Global South was always with the Palestinians as they think Israel is Britain’s colonial project to settle Europeans in the Muslim Middle East. It’s not about anti-Semitism, but long experience at the sharp end of the West’s mission civilisatrice, and Israel’s history of friendly relations with the South African apartheid regime.
And U.S. diplomats are sounding the alarm in interval channels that America’s policies will isolate the U.S. from the Arab and Muslim worlds, which may make for a less cohesive response to rapidly unfolding events in the region, and dilute Washington’s ability to rally opposition to Russia and China, the latter being the leading trade partner of much of the world.
Winston Churchill said, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.”
It has been a long, expensive lesson for America, but hopefully the political level will finally absorb the lesson that the bill for its decision to use a religious militia to push over a faltering Soviet Union came due on 9-11, when 2,977 Americans were killed, and on 21 August 2021, when American power was publicly humiliated by that same militia. And Washington needs to stop deferring to local judgement and start giving some orders to ensure its allies in Jerusalem never again do something as stupid as supporting their sworn enemies, hoping they really don’t mean what they say.
James Durso (@james_durso) is a regular commentator on foreign policy and national security matters. Mr. Durso served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years and has worked in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.
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