The Power of Events: Israel’s Sudden Election Complicated
By Increasing Terrorism & U.S.’s M.E. Ambivalence
It is an old dictum that what the French call histoire évenémentielle, the often-determining role of events in history, can unexpectedly change politics. The sudden collapse of Israel’s governing coalition is a good example: it means a March election and new uncertainty, and this as terrorism, in and around Jerusalem as well as across the M.E., Iran, and Africa, continues.
Meanwhile, Israel’s situation is worsened by the ambivalence, political and military, of its major (indeed, only) ally, the U.S. A lame-duck Democratic Administration, led by America’s Hamlet-like President Barack Obama, is first in (Syria), then out, then back (ditto re Iraq and Afghanistan); first he’s affirming “no boots on the ground”, then it’s 1,500, now it may be 3,000; first US forces will only be “trainers”, then they will be armed, now they’ll support forward Iraqi echelons; and so on and on.
Yet even as Obama seems, however unwillingly, to backtrack on earlier withdrawal commitments to his “base” by ramping up US “assets” in Iraq and Afghanistan, he continues to downsize (“sequestration”) American armed forces. The stated goal? To arrive at a fighting force not appreciably larger than the woefully inadequate Army and Navy of December 7, 1941, at the outbreak of World War II. And this not only as the Middle East heats up, but as Russian aggression in Ukraine, and a threatening Chinese naval expansion, continue.
Then, the icing on the disintegrating cake: Obama forces out his hand-picked Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, a former U.S. Senator and battle-tested U.S. Army veteran, who evidently proved too hawkish (and too pro-Israel). His replacement, as the fourth Secretaryin six years? A more compliant Pentagon bureaucrat, Ashton B. Carter, a neutral administrator with absolutely no military background or credibility.
Two recent articles appearing simultaneously in a major newspaper summed up the contradictory, and dangerous, implications of such American ambivalence. One noted that, despite the resumption of American bombing of terrorist Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, their expansion seems not have been appreciably slowed. The other article reported on growing concern in the American military that the new campaign was ill-conceived, too little, too late, and that extreme fear of the negative media impact of civilian casualties was rendering much of the bombing ineffective.
(Authorization for each mission has to be preceded by detailed reconnaissance flights, with each potential target then relayed to the U.S.-based Command Center for approval at the highest level. Such a slow, cumbersome process often results in the target moving on or disappearing. The Islamic State fighters—who of course are unconcerned about civilian casualties–have quickly learned how to disperse, hide, and otherwise evade both the reconnaissance process and the actual postponed follow-on attacks.)
America’s continuing foreign policy and military hesitations (confusion?) have emboldened its, and Israel’s, enemies. Together with the post-Arab Spring collapse of the M.E. state system, the advance of a new kind of territory-acquiring terrorism, and ongoing Iranian nuclear development (yet another example of American irresolution), this was surely not the most auspicious moment for Israel’s governing coalition to collapse.
But sudden, unexpected events can be turned to political advantage—as Machiavelli said, virtù vince fortuna, “virtue” (intelligence and boldness) can conquer the sudden, unexpected blows of chance. Ongoing terrorism and Palestinian rejectionism, and the Israeli electorate’s across-the-board disillusion with the U.S. Administration’s cherished, and increasingly utopian, “two-state” solution, may well see Netanyahu winning a more stable center-right coalition in March. And (as the 2016 Presidential election looms) the recently-returned Republican majority in both Houses of Congress can put consistent foreign–policy pressure on the vacillating White House.
Hence, however unwanted the current domestic turmoil may be, the balance in 2015 may yet turn in Netanyahu’s, and Israel’s, favor.
(Prof. Frederick Krantz is President of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research
Editor of its ISRAFAX journal and Daily Isranet Briefing.)