Tuesday, October 24th, 2023 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/simchat-torah-war-day-17
oday, Day #17 of what might be called the Simchat Torah War, featured three developments: the USA’s tacit acknowledgement of Iran’s embroilment; the Israeli military not merely delaying but probably postponing a ground incursion; and the Western media’s chastening.
The US Navy redirected its USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier away from joining fellow carrier the USS Gerald R. Ford in the Eastern Mediterranean facing Hizballah in Lebanon to instead head to the Persian Gulf facing Iran. The US is thus internalizing that Iran is part of this hot conflict, even as strategic ambiguity is retained by disclaiming notions of Iran’s direct involvement in Hamas’s initial Black Sabbath invasion and today’s rocket attacks on US bases in eastern Iraq (they do acknowledge connections among these organizations to avoid seeming absurd). Notwithstanding this unwillingness to join the dots, which would finally put paid to the Biden Administration’s pathological attempt to reach an accommodation with Iran, this deployment expresses the possibility of a sea change.
Meanwhile Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza to expunge Hamas no longer seems imminent, despite the amassed troops waiting to enter. Awkwardly, conflicting statements have been made — Arye Deri of the civilian leadership said it’s understood that the troops aren’t sufficiently trained, whereas the IDF has said it’s ready to go and merely awaits the Cabinet’s go-ahead. In fact the pause seems due to various pressures:
- Hostages: With the trickle of hostage releases, the US and Europe would like Israel to hold off in order to get more out, and indeed Israel may be of similar bent. Although it’s possible that the pressure of a ground attack could help rather than hinder the hostages’ plight, now that releases are happening without a ground attack, it seems reasonable to let this process play out.
- Unreadiness: General Yitzhak Brik’s warning about Israel’s ground troops being sub-par and unready, together with the acknowledgement of the difficulties of suddenly deciding to fight against a prepared defender with what may be the greatest tunnel network in history, likely demands more aerial softening up and special forces infiltrations in order to glean intelligence and better prepare. The US has dispatched senior military personnel to advise Israel based on their relevant urban warfare experiences in Iraq.
- Hizballah: An Israeli invasion of Gaza may be the tripwire for a first strike by Hizballah involving rockets that would cause mass and probably strategic damage from the sheer number and increasing accuracy of its missiles, and involving infiltrations that would divide the IDF infantry’s attention. Hizballah may have lost the element of surprise after Hamas invaded first, as Israel is now primed and pumped, but still has massive capabilities.
So Israel might now pretend its war is merely an operation — this as opposed to Russia in Ukraine, which is running an operation pretending to be a war (thanks Juan Carlos for this formulation). That is to say: unlike Russia, Israel’s entire society is mobilized and will pay any price to see this through; any restraint is merely tactical.
Meanwhile on the public diplomacy front, The New York Times issued a terse and cold but quite comprehensive correction of its coverage of the Gaza hospital blast, and the BBC has announced it will no longer use the term “militant” regarding Hamas albeit won’t go so far as to say “terrorist”. This represents at least some shift in understanding in the media: that it has responsibilities due to its power, and that the danger is too great to let its staffers indulge their leftist-liberationist bent. Moreover they have probably created a backlash; emboldened and inflamed by the media, pro-Palestinian marches in Western cities have broken through their legal limits, worrying local populations that they too have a deadly foe in their midst. Sensible people may be internalizing that Jews are again the coalmine’s canary.
Stepping back, despite having many doubts these past few days of the benefits of the USA’s friendship due to a feeling that Israel is being wrapped in a restrictive bear hug, I’m increasingly of a mind that this is a well-coordinated endeavor among trusting allies, reminiscent perhaps of how the US and the UK collaborated in WWII. Israel wants her superpower ally involved in the war, the price for which is that her superpower ally is involved in the war.
This rallying around Israel is reassuring and comforting on one hand, but on the other is frightening by demonstrating a coalescing around global alliances, a precursor to a larger war. While Israel cannot let this ghastly and shameful attack stand, neither does it wish to foment a world war. Threading that needle is the task ahead. Can Israel trust its friends, the same friends who contributed to this mess in the first place, to not crush the former in the pursuit of the latter?
Yes we can; we must; we too contributed after all; the success of the attack is due not only to catastrophic Israeli operational failure but to the Israeli concept of tamping down the Palestinians and their national penchant for violence and terror by enabling their split into two rival factions, an approach not so different perhaps from the American concept of balancing the Muslim penchant for jihad by evening out the forces between the Sunnis and the Shiites (Obama’s “share the neighborhood”). Israel’s local too-clever-by-half management has explosively and terribly failed and was in retrospect appeasement; hopefully the Biden Administration is coming around to taking this as a stark warning regarding their own approach.
A final noteworthy note: despite the condemnation of Israel’s response to date, neither the neighboring peace agreement nor Abraham Accords ambassadors to Israel have been recalled.
Update 2023 Nov 1: Jordan has recalled its ambassador to Israel