It sure didn’t take long for the effect of the U.S. election to be felt around the world, particularly in the Middle East. Within days of President Barack Obama’s victory, Israel found itself under missile and mortar attack on two fronts. Though the bulk of the blitz is coming from the Gaza Strip in the south, stray shells from Syria in the north have also presented a serious problem, one that has resulted in retaliatory fire on the part of the Israel Defense Forces. Whether Israel is merely being hit inadvertently by rebels battling against the Assad regime, or by Syrian army moves against them, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that he cannot tolerate the reckless endangerment of his citizenry in the Golan Heights.
His greater worry, however, involves deciding how to handle the massive daily barrages on innocent men, women, and children in cities, towns, and villages all over the southern part of the country, as far north as Ashdod, a mere 40 minutes away from Ben-Gurion International Airport.
This situation is not new to Netanyahu or his predecessors. In fact, Qassams and Grads, funded by Iran and transferred to Hamas and other terrorist groups via tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, have been launched into Israel for the past 12 years. After the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, when the Likud government evacuated every last Jew from the territory, the severity of these attacks increased exponentially.
The tragic irony here is that the purpose of the withdrawal was to keep suicide bombers from Gaza out of Israel’s population centers, where they had been entering daily and blowing themselves up in crowded buses, shopping malls, and restaurants. So, ultimately, one unbearable kind of carnage was replaced by another.
Four years ago, just after Obama was elected the first time, Israel went to war against the rocket-happy terrorists in Gaza and their infrastructure. Operation Cast Lead, as that incursion was called, ended badly. This is because Israel withdrew its troops for the wrong reason: not after getting the job done (or even rescuing then-captive soldier Gilad Schalit), but rather to prepare for its own Knesset elections. As a result, just as was the case with Hezbollah in the aftermath of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hamas simply regrouped, rebuilt its arsenal, rearmed its soldiers, and, of course, refilled its Tehran-sourced till.
Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, about a month before Netanyahu became prime minister. The first leader the American president phoned from the Oval Office was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. This was only the beginning of Obama’s literal and figurative announcement to members of the Arab-Muslim world that his main goal was to conduct “outreach” and “dialogue” with them, no matter how radical or anti-American — including the mullahs pulling the strings in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Indeed, as soon as he and his family were settled comfortably in their new digs in the White House, Obama took a trip to Cairo, where he delivered a speech to this very effect, titled “A New Beginning.” Understanding the significance of such sentiments from the president of the United States — sprinkled with Arabic, no less — the predominately Muslim Brotherhood audience was buoyed.
And well might they have been. A year and a half later, with the encouragement of the Obama administration, they took over Egypt, following the ousting of long-time American ally President Hosni Mubarak.
Nor was the Brotherhood the only group to take note of Obama’s dim view of American power and even dimmer view of Israeli sovereignty. Every radical Islamist organization has been emboldened by what it sees as weakness emanating from Washington. Even Iran, whose saber-rattling rhetoric has been as anti-Obama as it was anti-Bush, grasped that it would have an easier time stepping up its nuclear weapons program with such wimps for enemies. Witnessing Obama reprimanding Netanyahu for daring to suggest that he draw “red lines” which, once crossed by Tehran, would constitute a casus belli, was a relief to the Iranian regime. This meant that Israel would have no choice but to “go it alone,” if at all — unless Mitt Romney were to become president, in which case, things might not be so simple.
When Obama won a second term last week, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his puppet, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, understood two key things: that the game of summits and negotiations was back on the table, and that the best distraction from their own dastardly plan would be to push Israel into an untenable position with America.
What could be better than goading Netanyahu into a war, just as an election campaign is heating up in the Jewish state?
Netanyahu knows this, too, which is why he convened all the country’s ambassadors on Monday to appeal to their logic and elicit their sympathy. It is behind his having pointed out to them that their own governments would not be able to sit by and be bombed morning, noon, and night without their taking some kind of action.
Good luck to him, is all I can say. When British Ambassador Matthew Gould emerged from the meeting with a statement to reporters that sounded almost identical to that released by the European Union — that “both sides” should exercise restraint, so as not to “escalate” matters — it was evident that Netanyahu had wasted his breath.
Meanwhile, his political future is on the line. The public that is being bombarded by missiles is begging him to go to war. Others are urging caution. Then there are those who fear that he will launch an operation, but pull out before the election — repeating the fiasco of 2008-9.
How he responds remains to be seen.
But there is no question mark punctuating the peril of the West with Obama at its helm for the next four years, if the last seven days since his re-election are any indication.
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring,’" available on Amazon and in bookstores in Europe and North America — and now on sale at Pomeranz Bookseller in Jerusalem.