May 19, 2024

not retaliation

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective                                                                     
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Elimination, not retaliation
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas all face the prospect of forced regime change. Like all leaders, democratically elected or otherwise, they cannot afford to stray far from the mainstream of their citizens’ beliefs – economic, religious, or political.
          When the Arab world exploded over the destruction of a Gaza hospital, they had to respond, even though evidence belatedly proved it was caused by a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket. Elements of Islamic Jihad are active in Gaza alongside fellow Hamas terrorists.
          The clarification of the explosion, important to analysts and people who watch cable news, did nothing to tamp down the rage that flared across the Arab world when images of the dead and wounded from the errant hospital strike first hit the airwaves. Although Israel has stated the mission is to eliminate Hamas over its brutal attack that took more than 1,300 mostly Israeli civilian lives, the loss of Palestinian civilian lives from the Israeli bombardment of Gaza looks more like retaliation to the Arab world.
          As a direct result, the meeting President Biden had scheduled with El-Sisi, Abdullah, and Abbas in Jordan was cancelled just as he was preparing to leave for the Middle East, and for those following the events on television, it was seen as a slap in the face of a U.S. president, an insult Americans struggled to understand.
          Biden well understood. Arab populations were afire with 80,000 protesters in Amman, Jordan, and young people in other capitals furious at the carnage. They are angry and they blame their own leaders along with leaders in other countries who have remained friendly with the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally.
          The leaders had no choice but to cancel their meeting with Biden, who would soon stand shoulder to shoulder with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader directing the military response against Hamas, and collaterally against the population of Gaza.
          The Arab leaders would later talk to Biden on the phone, something they could have done while he was in Washington. The U.S. government provides significant aid to the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. Next to Israel, Egypt is the region’s largest recipient of aid, $1.3 billion every year. Yet Egyptian President El-Sisi was a major roadblock to getting humanitarian aid to Gaza, and to allowing American citizens to flee Gaza into Egypt.
          Finally, after Biden’s visit, some trucks carrying needed supplies hopefully are being allowed in, and Biden along with his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, were working to open safe routes and establish a safe zone perhaps in Israel as well as in Egypt.
          It did not matter who launched the rocket that caused mayhem at the hospital in Gaza City, the images that flowed from that one misguided event changed the trajectory of the war in the instant it took to explode.
          Even so, the Arab leaders who backed away from Biden still offer the best path out of the bloodshed. They have much more in common with each other, and with Israel and the United States, than they do with Hamas, an organization created for the sole purpose of destroying Israel and the Jewish people. They recognize Israel’s right to exist, and Israel has embassies in Cairo and Jordan. There is regular communication. These Arab leaders want peace, but they do not want to become the de facto home for Palestinian refugees.
          In the end, the leaders of the United States, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority all realize that terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon are impediments to peace, and they understand that elimination, not retaliation, is the key, which is why it is incumbent upon Israel to employ restraint in the effort to accomplish the shared goal. Conversely, a campaign perceived as retaliation that results in large numbers of avoidable civilian casualties will only serve to undermine El-Sisi, Abdullah II, and Abbas, leaving them to contend with increasingly radicalized populations they cannot mollify or lead.
          Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2023 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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