Israel is on a war footing, with a ground assault on Gaza about to begin. Meanwhile, tensions remain high along the northern border, which Hezbollah continues to probe.
The Israeli Air Force struck earlier today at the international airports in Damascus and Aleppo to prevent Iranian or Syrian jets from utilizing either against the Jewish state.
What happens in Gaza does not stay in Gaza.
While Hamas timed its assault for the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Iran may have helped plan the attack, and Qatar and Turkey help finance Hamas, intra-Palestinian dynamics also played a role.
Mahmoud Abbas, the 87-year-old, Holocaust-denying, chain-smoking chairman of the Palestinian Authority, is currently serving the 18th year of his four-year presidential term. Unlike his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, Abbas has refused to appoint a successor. Hamas staged a coup against its Palestinian Authority rivals in 2007 to take full control over the Gaza Strip, and in recent years Hamas has sought to expand its influence into the West Bank in preparation for the intra-Palestinian fight that will follow Abbas’ death.
Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden famously quipped, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” Hamas now shows itself to be the strong horse. Iraqi militia leaders scramble to pay allegiance to Hamas, wanting to claim association with a group that has inflicted more damage on the Jewish state than anyone since the Egyptian army briefly breached the Suez Canal in 1973. Already, Hamas has a strong presence in West Bank towns like Nablus that they have infiltrated. The nature of Palestinian political culture, and its glorification of violence and terror against Israel and Jews, mean that across the area, not only will Hamas terrorists be tempted to act, but other Palestinian factions more closely aligned with the Palestinian Authority will feel pressured to align with Hamas.
To be fair, this will not be easy for them. Every Israeli resident in the West Bank is armed and on high alert. There will be no more surprises. But the culture of martyrdom means that neither ease nor benefit to Palestinian residents is a top priority. Terror sponsors like Iran and Turkey will encourage a broader war, as their leaders are willing to fight to the last Palestinian. Abbas himself probably hopes — and I would suspect Israel and the United States have told him behind the scenes — that if he stands down, Israel will hand control over Gaza to him after physically excising Hamas.
If Abbas is in a difficult position, pity Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Rampant corruption and his wife’s tin ear to the travails of ordinary Jordanians mean he is more popular in Washington than he is in Amman. Jordan has a huge Palestinian population and indeed it has always lacked self-confidence, since it is a Hashemite state largely founded on Palestinian territory. Abdullah II’s father, King Hussein, was in a similar position in 1967 when he involved himself in the Six-Day War against his better judgment rather than face the populist fervor of his own people.
Abdullah II has always turned to outside powers to maintain order. He has relied on the United States and United Kingdom militarily, and oil-rich Arab Gulf states financially. Today, however, he faces not only Palestinian populism, but also Turkish radicalism. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks to reclaim the Ottoman-era stewardship over the Al Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, both under Jordan’s custodianship right now. If Jordan faces serious civil disturbance, neither Turkey nor Iran will shed a tear — and neither will Hamas. Should Abdullah II’s reign collapse, many Palestinians would celebrate.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had his “Mission Accomplished” moment when, a week before war erupted, he claimed that Biden administration policies had brought unprecedented calm to the region. Biden’s critics long argued that empowering Iran and normalizing Hamas were recipes for disaster. They were right.
Now a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).