Iran, Israel, and Syria: Does What Came Before Show What Will Come Next?

Location of the Golan Heights

Last night, it looked like we were about to plunge into the new and most dangerous phase of a constantly-mutating series of wars in the Middle East. Over a tense few hours, Iran and Israel exchanged strikes, in what was either a display of signaling or a sign of things to come.

Or, of course, both.

Israel carried out widespread deadly raids against what it said were Iranian targets in Syria on Thursday after rocket fire towards its forces which it blamed on Iran, marking a sharp escalation between the two enemies.

I know that yesterday I said today’s post would be about the medium-and-long-term ramifications of the US announcing it was going to violate the JCPOA, but events, as we see, quickly overtook long-term thinking. They have a way of doing that.

So what do these strikes mean? Since, as of this writing (around 1:00 CST), there haven’t been further significant exchanges, we can begin to hazard a few guesses, knowing all the while that predictions only serve to make you look foolish, and bland gamesmanship is grotesque when real lives are on the line.

So to do a quick recap of last night’s events: Iran, shortly after announcing that it would abide by the JCPOA, but making clear that could change if the European signatories changed their tune, launched rockets at Israeli positions in the Golan Heights, which has been occupied by Israel since the ’67 war.

Israel retaliated, claiming to take out “nearly all key Iranian military targets in Syria”. The reason for this significance isn’t just that Israel was attacked; that is common. But up until now, it has been through Iranian proxies, such as Hezbollah. This was the first actual Iranian strike, and the first time Israel has attacked Iranian forces/infrastructure directly.

So…does this mean war? Right now, it looks like it doesn’t. Indeed, on the surface, it looks like Iran swaggered, and Israel punched back, demonstrating clear power, forcing Iran to back off. That might be the case. This may have been a little bit of eagerness, a few punches thrown in the chaos of war, before both sides backed down.

Right?

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Bibi as Trump; Trump As Bibi: How Netanyahu Is The Most Republican Politican In the World

Image result for trump netanyahu

In 2015, facing yet another tough re-election campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu posted a short video on his Facebook page, warning his voters about a unique threat to their political system, their way of life, and indeed, the fate of their country: different voters.

“The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”

This was in March of 2015, a few short months before Trump brought racism back into the mainstream of American politics, but it wasn’t like this sort of rhetoric was unfamiliar. Republicans in the United States have been using the same sort of rhetoric for years.

They’d been warning us of hordes of illegal immigrants voting, and massive conspiracies to have the wrong voters vote illegally. One of their conjuring words was “ACORN”, a voter registration service which they shut down after taking part in wild, absurdist conspiracies.

But to Republican supporters, alt-right loons, and out-and-out racists, it was an unmitigated Good Thing. After all, what ACORN was doing was registering the wrong people to vote. That’s echoed in Bibi’s message. It smacks of conspiracy, international meddling, some kind of nefarious scheme to overturn the rightful heir to the Israeli throne, when really it was just voter mobilization against a candidate who had made lives on the margin even more precarious.

This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Bibi Netanyahu has for years been not just celebrated by the Republican Party, but has essentially been a Republican. They use the same tactics, the same tone, and have shared beliefs.

Trump, though not a Netanyahu-like figure, is still the apotheosis of this. Through their rank insecurity, their demagogic bigotry, and most of all, their massive corruption, it is pretty clear that Trump and Bibi are cut from the same cloth.

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Kushner, Israel, and the Insulting Madness of Trump

Look at the man to your right, Jared, and the one next to your wife. You helped this happen. You are not a good person. 

The main front-pager in yesterday’s Times was about how Jared Kushner, top trump advisor and son-in-law, is going to be handling peace in the Middle East, especially in Israel, because he cares about it a lot. Well, he cares about Israel. It’s important to him. The Times is fairly delicate about his shortcomings.

Mr. Kushner, on something of a crash course in diplomacy, has been speaking with Arab leaders in recent weeks. But he is a mystery to most Middle Eastern officials. He has no experience in government or international affairs. His up-close exposure to the Arab world amounts to little more than trips to a handful of Persian Gulf countries and a star-studded jaunt to Jordan.

Though Mr. Kushner has visited Israel since childhood, and more recently to do business, he is little known there. He holds strong views about the state of Israel, but he has not been outspoken about them, save for editorials in The New York Observer, the newspaper he owned. His thinking on matters like settlements is not well understood.

The thrust of the piece, and of Trump’s and Kushner’s ideas, is that a coalition of anti-Iran players such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states can form an alliance of sorts with Israel, given a mutual enmity toward Iran, and that can be used to forge peace.

Now, there certainly is an idea there. Mutual enemies are always important. What is left out, of course, is Palestinian national ambition, or how that will actually fit in, and how the governments of these Arab nations will be able to maintain internal peace if they work with Israel without fulfilling Palestinian hopes, which of course will be very hard to do given the tightness team Trump has with Netanyahu, and of course that Kushner seems never to have considered Palestine at all in his equations.

But, for the sake of arguments, let’s stipulate a few things. Let’s stipulate that Kushner is a bright kid. He seems smart, and he did help Trump get elected, which was still a sort of dark genius. Let’s even stipulate that he’s a good person, which I don’t really consider anyone who helped elect a white nationalist know-nothing vacuous reality-show strongman dope to be, but still. Family is family, I guess. This is just for the sake of argument.

Let’s even stipulate that his is taking his crash course very seriously, and that during it, he has found an enormous wellspring of empathy for the plight of the Palestinians, and wants to be an honest broker. Let’s also stipulate that fresh ideas might be best in this stale conflict.

Even stipulating all that, some of which rely on facts not in evidence, it still is the case that Donald Trump, while assuming the most awesome power on the planet, had a chance to consider every single person in the United States to handle one of the most difficult diplomatic challenges on the globe, and came up with the guy who married his daughter.

Think of how lazy that is. Think of how insulting that is. Think of how insular and ridiculous that is. Now, maybe Kushner will turn out to be the exact right guy for this but it would really be a remarkable coincidence that of everyone in the world, including people who have spent their whole lives learning about the region and its players, the one guy who can solve it happens to be in Trump’s Christmas card.

It stands more to reason, one thinks cynically, that Kushner has shown some interest, and that Trump likes him so: sure. Give it to Kushner. If my daughter thinks he’s good enough, so should the Palestinians and the Israelis.

You might love Trump’s politics. But it is hard to argue that this isn’t the single laziest and most insulting Administration we’ve seen.