May 18, 2021 | Insight

The Conflict in Gaza and the Connection to Tehran and the United States

May 18, 2021 | Insight

The Conflict in Gaza and the Connection to Tehran and the United States

This war in Gaza began like previous rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas, but there is a chance – or a risk – of a different ending. Like before, the conflict began because of events on a different front; Hamas attacked in an attempt to portray itself as the defender of al-Aqsa. Yet the conflict may end differently because of the magnitude of Israeli Arabs’ participation in the unrest and because other adversaries, especially Tehran and its proxies, are watching for any signs of weakness.

This is the first time the mostly dormant volcano of Israeli Arab resentment has erupted with such great intensity. The problem is familiar, but apparently its intensity was underestimated. Whereas Gaza will ultimately be cut off from the State of Israel, Israeli Arabs will remain a part of the state. Israel cannot continue ignoring this problem and sweeping it under the rug.

On one hand, Israeli Arabs must internalize that it is impossible to “hold the stick at both ends”—to be both full-fledged citizens who enjoy the privileges of Israeli democracy and a standard of living much higher than most surrounding Arab countries—and still to resort to violence and illegal behaviors that undermine the delicate fabric of life of Israeli society. On the other hand, Israeli leaders must comprehend the intensity of the problem and direct resources and attention needed to try and fix it or at least reduce its intensity. There will probably be no escape without using both carrots and sticks.

In Gaza, regrettably, there is mostly a need for sticks. Israel’s main goal is to restore and strengthen deterrence. To do so, Israel must deal Hamas and its leaders a heavy, painful, and disproportionate blow, even at the cost of temporarily harming the Israeli home front, so Hamas hesitates in the future to initiate another round of fighting. Hamas leaders must suffer extensive damage to their most important assets: government symbols and government survival, their personal property, and of course, their personal survival.

As the cabinet correctly stated, Israel is not interested in a ceasefire and is responding with a firm “no” to mediators like Egypt and Russia who want to broker an end to the fighting. Even if Israel did not want a large battle at the beginning, the situation has deteriorated. Now Israel must be the only ones to determine the pace of events and the end state, and not be dragged along at the pace Hamas tries to dictate.

While the fighting is mainly in Gaza, many eyes are on the firmness with which Israel will manage the confrontation. In Vienna, Tehran’s negotiators are pressing their compliant American counterparts for additional concessions to resume nominal compliance with the fundamentally flawed 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran and its clients in Damascus and Beirut are all examining Israeli conduct and drawing conclusions about other areas of friction that are no less important in the long run than events in Gaza. In the Gulf, the Houthis attacked the Saudis again with precision missiles. There is no doubt that Iran’s long arm is stirring the cauldron in both Yemen and Gaza, for internal and external purposes.

What Tehran and its clients are looking for are any signs of division within Israel. Therefore, the Israeli response must show, in words and actions, that when it comes to security, there is no governmental vacuum and no rift between the right, center, and left. Any adversary who thinks it can take advantage of the political situation and uncertainty must see it is greatly mistaken. This message must reach Israel’s greatest ally, the United States, and its teams conducting the discussions in Vienna, which are currently headed in the wrong direction.

There are two key Israeli assets we cannot ignore; without them the conflict would have looked completely different. The Iron Dome continues to perform in a way that astonishes its inventors and developers, intercepting over 90 percent of the threats. True, the system is not hermetic, and is it true that if there were more systems and launchers, the layout would have been better, but imagine what would have happened without it. Each confrontation underscores again that this is a critical asset for the State of Israel and not a burden, as some of its opponents try to argue. In addition, the current confrontation presents a new asset, even if it cannot supply beautiful photographs, which is the underground barrier in Gaza. For the first time it proves its effectiveness at completely neutralizing one of Hamas’ important weapons, the offensive tunnels.

As with almost every technological development, in both cases these systems were built against heavy resistance, thanks to the relentless determination of a few individuals. These systems give the political (and military) echelons the time they need to make the right decisions at the right time.

When discussing the possibility of ground entry, I would recommend that the Israel Defense Forces prepare for it in case there is no other choice, but not rush into it, making the decision based on “thinking before acting,” making sure to set definite goals, and especially an end point, before starting any move.

The United States can play an important role in bringing the current round of fighting to a close under conditions that help Israel restore deterrence. To do this, the current administration needs to fundamentally change its point of view and choose the right path, and not proceed as it has in Vienna.

Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) and Iran Program. Jacob is also a visiting professor at the Technion Aerospace Faculty and previously served as acting national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and as head of Israel’s National Security Council. For more analysis from Jacob, CMPP, and the Iran Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP and @FDD_Iran. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Military and Political Power Palestinian Politics