Wednesday, June 18, 2014


I am afraid that we are headed to war.  We being Israel, and we being the United States of America. 

Not against each other, heaven forbid.  Not even together against another country. 

No, it's more like what an elderly friend, colleague, or relative--in other words, I can't remember who--used to say when people asked if we knew each other:  "We went to different schools together."

Israel and the U.S.--we've been to different schools, but we're learning the same lesson together:  when it comes to standing up to the bad guys, you have to, well, stand up and push them back down.  Otherwise, they think they can get away with it, and they keep doing it.

For Israel, do not expect it to trade prisoners to gain the release of the three boys recently kidnapped.  There have been over a dozen kidnapping attempts since the beginning of the year.  This one is in the news because it succeeded.

The Palestinians believe kidnapping works because Israel gave up over a thousand prisoners for the release of Gilad Shalit.  They openly look to and cheer for obtaining another "Shalit."

It appears that srael is going to break them of this practice.  We may not find the boys alive, but it is becoming clear that the IDF intends to upend life in the territories in its efforts to do so.

Add to that the continuing rocket attacks from Gaza aimed at innocent civilians in the South.  While these attacks are largely ignored by the world media, they cannot be ignored by the residents trying to live normal lives there.

Eventually, the actions in the West Bank and the rockets in the South, along with Israel's response, will erupt into war.  I expect the world to pay attention at that point because it will be time for the UN, the EU, the Arab League, and all the usual suspects to condemn Israel's aggressive actions.  Count on the Obama Administration expressing its concern and urging all sides to use restraint.

For the U.S., sometimes you must play the role of savior and world power even when you are tired of it.  Our desire to recede from that role in the Middle East may be coming back to haunt us in a big way.

As predicted by Vice-President Biden when he was Senator Biden, Iraq could wind up with three  states, one Sunni, one Kurdish, one Shiite--after, of course, a real bloodbath of a civil war.

The artificial lines established by Sykes and Picot about a century ago could be falling apart.  Like much of what this British-French collaboration did early in the last century, Iraq's lines were arbitrary and largely ignored ethnic, tribal, and geographic dictates. Picot was arguably crazy and Sykes was inarguably a liar and a double-crosser.

One could argue that because the U.S. did not help the moderate forces that wanted to overthrow Assad in Syria,  it wound up with extremely radical Sunnis that are now a major part of the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) forces bearing down on Bagdad and apparently bent on reestablishing the glorious Islamic caliphates of yesteryear.

Even if we ignore the fact that the world, including some good friends of the U.S., depend on Iraqi oil that may be in jeopardy, we cannot ignore the fact that the march of these brutal extremists will not  stop there. Jordan is clearly in danger, and that may not be the end.

The dilemma facing the U.S. could make the rock and the hard place look downright pillow-like. If it stays uninvolved or hesitates too long, it risks the march of the Sunni extremists.  If the U.S. helps shore up Malaki's Shiite Iraq, it winds up helping defend Iran's interests and unintentionally supports its efforts to achieve hegemony in the region.

Clearly Americans are tired of war, and clearly Americans had no appetite for heavy involvement in Syria, seeing it as another Middle Eastern quagmire that would cost much-cherished American lives and much needed American resources.   But there is a decent argument that the mess that is now unfolding in Iraq and Syria is what happens when America shirks from being the assertive power in the Middle East and the world.

Things may not have gone well if the U.S. had done more in Syria, but we know for sure that if it leaves a vacuum, bad things happen. Those bad things come back to haunt Americans.


Among those of us who support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the fate of the Jordan Valley has been a point of dispute.  Some have argued that an Israeli presence is necessary as an early-warning signal and a first line of defense against an attack from the east.  Others have argued that the days of territory equaling security are over and that, in any event, Jordan is a friend and Iraq, a long-time threat, has been neutralized.  It appears time to adjust that assumption.


Two book  recommendations: Lawrence IN Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson. And Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present, by former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. Both great reads.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

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  1. Worrisome developments in your part of the world. A good reminder about vigilance.

  2. I am afraid your conclusion (Israel and the U.S.--we've been to different schools, but we're learning the same lesson together: when it comes to standing up to the bad guys, you have to, well, stand up and push them back down. ) is wrong for the US at this point. I am not sure that the Administration has learned a thing and seems not inclined to see these events (Iran, Syria, ISIS) together as a common set of problems.

  3. "Count on the Obama administration expressing its concern and urging all sides to use restraint."
    Unless there develops a critical need by Israel for matériel.
    Then count on the Obama administration expressing silence.

  4. The sooner one stands up to a bully the milder the confrontation will be. This applies to nations. That train has left the station in Syria and is departing in Iraq. Russia and China are works in progress. It is a truism that today our electorate has no stomach for boots on the ground in the MIddle East or anywhere else; like it or not that is the situation. No need to get political about why, it is what it is. That does not bode well for Israel, the price of energy, or our long term security. But it is how democracies cycle through periods of war and peace.

  5. Not easy choices, but thought-provoking read.

  6. Remind me again why we wouldn't let Iraq divide along it's natural fault lines into three states after the invasion? Because that is what we are going to get, despite the lives lost and billions spent to create a central government that the Iraqis didn't want.

  7. First rule of a barroom fight is hit the other guy first.

  8. I’m still trying to figure out how, after all the blood and treasure expended in Iraq, the United States ends up allied with Nouri Maliki, Iran, Bashar Assad, and Hezbollah to fight a Sunni insurgency funded in large part by our “friends” in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Gulf Emirates. Please help educate me.

  9. agree with you that some kind of war is imminent. You do a good job encapsulating the possibilities. But I think there are going to be some strange bedfellows getting together in this upcoming conflict. Sort of a mind blower really.