Editor’s Note: The following is a review of the new book by Jonathan Schanzer, Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel, and Eleven Days of War (Washington, D.C., Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, 2021), pp. 272.
Donald Trump had sidelined the confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians, prioritizing above all the U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership. He withdrew from the Iran Deal and slapped Tehran with a maximum pressure strategy that took the regime to near bankruptcy, while prompting an unprecedented normalization of Israeli-Arab relations.
Biden abandoned all of that. And for his refreshment of U.S. policy, Biden reaped—in the first months of his presidency—a short, violent war between the Israelis and Hamas. Jonathan Schanzer’s Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel, and Eleven Days of War provides an expert summary of that war in the context of the long history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the process, he makes a convincing case that Biden’s dance in a different direction is falling flat on its face.
No one has a better set of tools for reconstructing the troubled times in Israel than Jonathan Schanzer, a senior vice president at the Washington-based think tank the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He speaks Arabic and Hebrew. He has worked in the Middle East space for years, writing tons on the topic.
As contemporary history, Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel, and Eleven Days of War is a worthwhile read delivering a clear, accessible explanation of the long-haul Palestinian-Israel conflict and an unprejudiced assessment of the conflict. It stands in stark contrast to the near-universally inaccurate reporting that most Americans were fed during the course of the war. Schanzer’s story, however, is more than just a history to be told.
The bottom line of Gaza Conflict is that Hamas is a dangerous and implacable foe that will never be a partner for peace. The terrorist organization enjoys the strong and unshakable support of Iran. The persistence of Hamas pairs with the deepening anger and frustration of the Palestinian people who are caught in the middle between Iran’s proxy war with Israel, the brutal overlordship of Hamas, and Israel. This volatile mix will only get worse.
This latest Gaza War demonstrated that Biden has no influence over this death. By jumping back into talks to reenter the Iran Deal, he abandoned all leverage over Tehran. And the now emboldened Iran sees an aggressive Hamas as a valuable tool for attacking Israel. The Biden administration has further aggravated matters by reinstating support for UNRWA, the UN relief organization that is little more than an enabler for Hamas’ grip on power in Gaza.
Another problem for Biden, Schanzer points out, are supporters of Hamas and antisemitic voices in the president’s own political party. They have coalesced into a black hole, pulling Democratic politicians away from the historic bipartisan consensus for the U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership.
Biden has weakened his own hand in the Middle East at the moment Israel finds itself saddled with a weak coalition government, united by little more than a common concern over the threat posed by Iran and the fear of instability in the Palestinian communities in Gaza and the West bank.
It is hard to read Gaza Conflict 2021 and not conclude that this was Hamas’s war… and Biden’s mess.
A stable and prosperous Middle East more resilient against internal conflict and foreign pressure is in the U.S. interests.
There are only two ways to salvage the situation. One is the continued process of Israeli-Arab normalization that presses ahead without American support. This could deliver a measure of collective security, stability, and economic growth sufficient to hold off Iran, Russia, and China for the near term. The other, better option is for Biden do another turn, pivoting back to policies that were far more efficacious in protecting American interests.
A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research on matters of national security and foreign relations.