Israel’s near-term retaliation against Hamas for crimes against Israeli civilians that resemble nothing so much as European pogroms, where Jewish men, women and children were sought out and massacred, will, no doubt, be measured and legal.
But there is a bigger map.
What will Iran do? What will its proxy Hezbollah do? Or the Palestinian Authority? And, in the near and longer term, what will the countries of the Abraham Accords do? Or Saudi Arabia? Or the United States?
The origins of the Abraham Accords and the Israel-Saudi rapprochement were grounded in two sets of interests, one positive and one negative. The positive interest was to provide economic, political, and social stability for young and increasingly internationally oriented young people in the Gulf States, Morocco, and elsewhere. The Saudis, too, have a strong desire to move their young people into the international economic and technology community. Israel is a great partner in many ways – location, technology, financial security, and more. The rapid growth of ties is proof that the Abraham Accords are desired by the region.
On the negative side, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and others are threatened by Iran – as Israel is threatened.
Iran’s rulers believe they are destined to control all of Islam and then all of the world. They’re not “crazy,” they’re believers. And, despite the fact that Shiite Islam is practiced by less than 15% of Muslims worldwide, Iran has hit on a way to use regional instability to multiply its reach. In the middle of the Middle East, Iran has stoked warfare in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, as well as Gaza and increasingly on the West Bank. This works to encircle Israel and Jordan and put a “lid” across Saudi Arabia. Iranian support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen threatens Saudi Arabia and can potentially close the 18-mile opening at the bottom of the Red Sea – threatening Jordan’s only direct access to the rest of the world as well as threatening Israel, Egypt, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia.
Iran supports instability in both North Africa and the second tier of African countries—Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Nigeria—exacerbating regional tension and creating chaos, particularly for Morocco, where the Sunni king is a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. It also puts Sunni Egypt on the front line. In the best of times, those second-tier countries represent difficult amalgams of (sometimes violently) competing religions, multiple (and sometimes violent) ethnic groups, corrupt governments, and poverty. But these are not the best of times, and flames are being stoked by Iran, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda.
Another result of chaos in the Middle East and Africa is the migrant flood to Europe. With Libya ruled by two fighting factions, NATO’s “Mediterranean Dialogue,” designed to keep the Mediterranean Sea secure for trade and travel, has unraveled. Migrants – economic, social, political – move north through Libya and pay for passage to Italy or Spain. The demonstrations in London, Paris, and Berlin this week – with their shouts of “gas the Jews” and “River to the Sea” are evidence of their success in moving the conflict out of the region and into Western Europe.
It is against this threat that many Arab and North African states see Israel as a security partner. Israel is one of the few countries in the region that is a “security producer” rather than a “security consumer.” It is a country by virtue of which the region is more rather than less secure.
This is where things get complicated in the face of the Hamas grotesquery.
If Saudi Arabia was previously hedging its bets about joining the Abraham Accords, it was quietly – though not under the table – talking to and working with Israel. The relationship was progressing at its own pace. One of the underpinnings was the Saudi belief that Israel would help to protect it against Iran – the same belief the Abraham Accords countries had.
What happens now in Gaza puts Israel to the test.
If Israel manages the war there in a way that is a clear defeat for Hamas, the Saudis, Bahrainis and Emirates – and others – will have their confidence in Israel sustained. If, however, Israel – whether under US pressure or military necessity – has to stop operations in such a way that Hamas gets to declare “victory,” the Arab countries will have to consider making deals with Iran for their own security. Qatar and Turkey – two Sunni Muslim countries – have already made their pledges to Tehran and the mullahs.
There are many reasons to pray for and encourage Israel in this fundamental battle of good versus evil. Israel’s own security being at the top of the list. But regional and even continental security counts mightily here.
There may be good news in the fact that Iran’s UN Representative has backtracked on Tehran’s initial open threats to join the war, saying that Iran will not attack Israel if Israel doesn’t attack Iran or its assets. But the world will have to stand with Israel for some time to allow the war to reach its proper conclusion – the surrender of Hamas and the return of Hamas hostages to Israel.