Israel’s vaunted intelligence services are being blamed for failing to detect what had to be monthslong preparations by Hamas to carry out the shocking attacks on Israelis last weekend, inflicting the worst one-day death toll on Jews since the Holocaust.
But the timing of the blitzkrieg from Hamas-ruled Gaza should have come as no surprise when Israel’s Western allies are distracted by domestic conflicts and wavering over support for Ukrainian victims of Russia’s brutal invasion, the United States first among them.
President Joe Biden pledged immediate and unwavering support for Israel in its looming showdown with Hamas that could draw in like-minded terrorists from Lebanon-based Hezbollah. But the reality is a U.S. Congress paralyzed by political brinkmanship that may thwart the administration’s ability to swiftly approve aid, armaments or military engagement.
“Hamas is a terrorist organization whose stated reason for being is to kill Jews,” Biden said in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday. He drew a distinction between U.S. commitment to abide by international law governing armed conflict and militias like Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and ISIS that commit atrocities against civilians.
Biden hailed the deployment of the USS Gerald R. Ford and its surrounding armada of destroyers and cruisers to the region as demonstration of U.S. resolve to show that “the United States has Israel’s back.” The carrier strike force, the newest and most powerful in the U.S. Navy, arrived at its Eastern Mediterranean position on Tuesday, immediately drawing criticism from NATO-ally Turkey.
“They will hit Gaza and around, and take steps for serious massacres,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of Washington’s intentions in sending the carrier group to the naval perimeter of the new war zone. Erdogan has previously advocated for mediation between Israel and its Palestinian enclaves and likely fears the U.S. naval proximity will be drawn into a threatened Israeli Defense Forces invasion to defeat Hamas by whatever means necessary.
The outbreak of all-out war between the IDF and Hamas militants bent on the destruction of Israel promises to escalate in intensity. The ultranationalist coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pounding Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians with airstrikes without regard to civilian casualties in retaliation for the indiscriminate slaughter committed against Israelis last weekend.
There is no hope of diplomatic resolution of the crisis taking the lives of hundreds on both sides each day. Death tolls have soared beyond 2,000, with more bodies and atrocities being discovered as IDF reach massacre scenes and Hamas fighters dig out from the rubble of punishing Israeli aerial bombardment.
Anger and distrust are at fever pitch in Israel after senseless targeting of clearly civilian victims. At least 260 mostly young people died in a vicious attack on an Israeli music and dance festival on Saturday when Hamas gunmen bombed the massive gathering said to be celebrating peace. The militants chased hundreds of those who survived the initial attack, shooting and killing dozens more from behind as they tried to flee.
Neither Hamas nor Iranian-armed Hezbollah warriors are forces that can be trusted to negotiate in good faith. The militants seized more than 150 Israeli military and civilian hostages during Saturday’s blitz, including a Holocaust survivor, women, children and a number of Americans living or visiting in Israel.
Hamas likely hopes to use the captives as human shields to deter attacks on their hideouts. But advisors to Netanyahu have indicated their priority is to retaliate first.
Mark Regev, a former Israeli ambassador to Britain and a Netanyahu confidante, told U.S. network and cable anchors that Israel is responding on two parallel tracks: “to hit back hard and do everything we can to free the hostages.”
Prominent U.S. military strategists are forecasting disaster looming in both arenas of the long-simmering hostilities — in the densely populated Palestinian enclave of Gaza on Israel’s southern shore and on the northern border with Lebanon where the rival anti-Israel militants of Hezbollah may be poised to join forces with Hamas to divide Israel’s potential to wipe out Hamas in Gaza and any civilians in the way.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Retired Adm. James Stavridis noted the arrival of the U.S. carrier group off the coast of Israel on Tuesday. “But we don’t have a chief of naval operations confirmed,” the former supreme allied commander of NATO pointed out. He urged Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville to lift his hold on key U.S. military appointments in his one-man vendetta against Pentagon policies that protect servicewomen from draconian reproductive health bans in states like Alabama. Tuberville, whose foreign policy expertise doesn’t extend beyond Auburn University’s football field, has reiterated his intent to stand firm on his blockade of essential military promotions despite the dangerous developments in Israel and threats to NATO allies from the ongoing savagery of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The U.S. Senate’s inability or unwillingness to end Tuberville’s hostage-taking of American defense policy is coupled with even deeper dysfunction in the House of Representatives, where the narrow and divided Republican majority last week ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy then recessed for a week. With no one empowered to table legislation or convene a timely — and likely contentious — vote for a new speaker, Biden’s ability to muster aid for Israel could be hampered. House Republicans are now testing a driverless clown car as opposed to changing the party anarchist behind the wheel.
Republican infighting in the House has already cost Biden his latest attempt to aid Ukraine in its fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war aimed at eradicating the neighboring state whose population he rejects as renegade Russians. In order to avoid a catastrophic U.S. government shutdown on Oct. 1, Biden signed a bill to extend government funding through mid-November but at the cost of dropping additional funding for arms and assistance to Ukraine.
A small contingent of anti-government disrupters in the so-called House Freedom Caucus ousted McCarthy in punishment for joining Democrats to pass the stop-gap funding measure without the extremists’ proposed gutting of federal agencies and domestic programs feeding the poor.
The same clan pressing the authoritarian agenda of former President Donald Trump has thrown in doubt reliable U.S. support for Ukraine in its battle against Putin’s imperialist aims that, if lost, would likely turn Kremlin aggression on NATO member states like the Baltics. That would trigger U.S. treaty obligations to come to the defense of alliance partners under attack, putting U.S. boots on the ground in direct conflict with Russia.
Political discord and strengthening authoritarian forces in Europe have also undermined support for Ukraine as populations focus on their domestic disputes rather than consider the greater threats to global peace and security as posed by Putin and militant groups like Hamas.
A hardline nationalist, Robert Fico of Slovakia, won the most votes in parliamentary elections last month and thus the right to cobble together a coalition to restore his allegiance to Russia. In Poland, voters are poised to make a fateful vote for national leadership on Sunday when they choose between a pro-Europe centrist and re-election of the rightist incumbents of the Law and Justice party that has been backsliding on democratic reforms carried out since the end of Soviet alliance in the 1980s.
Even in Britain, economic turmoil in the wake of the UK’s “Brexit” withdrawal from the European Union has fostered a drift from support to embattled democracies as those far from the Russian aggression experience Ukraine donor fatigue.
Putin, whose forces have struggled for 20 months to make much progress on his determination to conquer Ukraine, must be jubilant over the new Middle East crisis distracting Western governments’ attention from aiding Ukraine.
Veteran analysts of Middle East politics and conflict are scarily united in their forecasts of worse to come in Israel if Netanyahu launches a ground invasion of Gaza to exact revenge for the Hamas strikes. Among the Israeli government’s security failures was the erroneous belief that the purportedly impenetrable wall built to protect Jewish settlements near Gaza was sufficient defensive preparation. Hamas militants bulldozed the structure with ease and swept undeterred into Jewish communities where they committed unspeakable atrocities against women, babies and elderly Jews.
Biden vowed U.S. commitment to defend Israel with respect for international rules governing armed conflicts, saying only terrorists target civilians.
“The situation is going to get worse before it gets a lot worse,” warned Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a 24-year veteran of Mideast diplomacy in the U.S. State Department.
Noting that Israeli’s hardline nationalist leadership is driven by anger in its vow to rid Gaza of its Hamas government, Miller told television news anchors that he is “not sure Israel can respect Biden’s call for abiding by the rule of law.”
The stealth attacks that began Saturday inflicted the biggest number of casualties on Jews since the Holocaust. Israeli politicians and journalists are calling the attacks their “9/11 moment.” While some commentators dismiss the comparison with the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States a dozen years ago as hyperbolic, others recognize that the proportion of deaths to Israel’s 9 million population is actually nine times the fatalities as the life-altering 2001 attack.
“This was a massacre. This was a slaughter. The appropriate word is Medieval,” Anti-Defamation League director Jonathan Greenblatt told MSNBC in an impassioned diatribe against rising anti-Semitism in the United States. He lamented the failure of business and educational leaders to condemn hate groups now openly spilling their venomous beliefs in public.
Avi Mayer, editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, called the Hamas attack “the most traumatic event in the history of Israel,” a state established in 1948 as a haven for survivors of the Nazis’ genocidal campaign that killed 6 million European Jews.