OpinionMiddle East

Thomas Friedman’s misguided trade of crushing Hamas for Saudi relations

The columnist is a master of the journalistic technique of interviewing people who agree with him and then quoting them to “prove” his views are correct.

“New York Times” columnist Thomas L. Friedman on ABC News. Source: Screenshot.
“New York Times” columnist Thomas L. Friedman on ABC News. Source: Screenshot.
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

In the latest anti-Israel eruption, wannabe Israeli Prime Minister Thomas (“Old Faithful”) Friedman rants that Israel is making a mistake by moving to crush the last of Hamas’s fighters in Rafah instead of letting them live to repeat Oct. 7 over and over. Israeli lives should remain at risk, he says, to receive the blessing of relations with Saudi Arabia.

You have to say one thing for Friedman: He is consistent in putting his views of Israel’s interests ahead of those of Israelis.

“I appreciate how traumatized Israelis are by the vicious Hamas murders, rapes and kidnappings of Oct. 7,” he says.

No, you don’t. You’ve never understood Israelis’ determination to survive or their enemies’ commitment to their destruction.

This time, he can’t blame his piñata, Benjamin Netanyahu, for standing in the way of his suicide pact for Israel because he admitted “no major Israeli leader today in the ruling coalition, the opposition or the military” agrees with him. Of course, this is true for almost everything Friedman has ever written about Israel, whose armchair quarterbacking from 6,000 miles away seems to unsurprisingly appeal only to the editors of The New York Times.

“Early in the war,” Friedman writes, “Israeli military and political leaders would tell you that moderate Arab leaders wanted Israel to wipe out Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that is detested by every Arab monarch. Sure, they would have liked Hamas gone—if it could have been done in a few weeks with few civilian casualties. It’s now clear that it can’t be, and prolonging the war is not in the interest of the moderate Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia.”

Wrong again. As with State Department Arabists, Saudis love to whisper sweet nothings into the gullible Friedman’s ear. And he always delivers for them, as when he took credit for the Saudi peace plan another crown prince fed him that was supposed to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. The plan was a complete nonstarter for Israel and predictably failed. The basis for it—and Friedman’s and the Arabists’ continued misperception—is that the Arabs care more about the Palestinians than their interests. Recall former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s infamous speech reflecting this ignorance, when he said there would be “no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world” without “Palestinian peace.”

Just four years later in 2020, after his successor stopped trying to appease the irredentist Palestinians, the Abraham Accords were signed. Israel had waited patiently for Gulf leaders to reach Israel’s conclusion that the Palestinians have no interest in peace and that they should stop placing the Palestinians’ interests before their own. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are now reaping the benefits of Israeli technology and trade.

Now, Friedman and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken want to go back in time and renew the Palestinian veto over Arab normalization.

Israel did not have to give the Palestinians a state to make peace with Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain or the UAE. There is no reason to make such a concession now. The last thing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should want is a Palestinian state that would threaten not only Israel but Jordan. He cares about one thing: ensuring that his royal head stays on his shoulders, which requires U.S. defense guarantees. He’ll throw the Palestinians under the bus just like Anwar Sadat of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan and the rest to get what serves his interests.

Friedman is a master of the journalistic technique of interviewing people who agree with him and then quoting them to “prove” his views are correct. Now he claims the Saudis tell him: “Please get to a full ceasefire and hostage release as soon as possible and focus instead on the U.S.-Saudi-Israeli-Palestinian security-normalization deal.”

Even Blinken admits the obstacle to a ceasefire is Hamas, which so far has not altered its unacceptable demands even after what Blinken called an “extraordinarily generous” Israeli proposal. Rather than call for maximum pressure on the terrorist organization and Iranian proxy, Friedman joins with the Arabists in advocating for more pressure on Israel, including threats of cutting military aid.

Indeed, there are benefits to normalization with Saudi Arabia, but Israel has lived without it for 75 years and could do so for the next 75. It already has sub-rosa relations based on the mutual interest in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Friedman quotes U.S. officials who don’t want Israel to go into Rafah. He certainly won’t talk to anyone with a different opinion. These are many of the same people bent on sabotaging relations with Israel. Their latest gambit is to accuse Israel of violating U.S. laws on the use of American-made weapons as a pretext for cutting off military aid.

Washington has been trying to micromanage the war from day one, and its advice is no more infallible when it comes to fighting in Rafah than it has been for its battles in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Continually telling Israel not to make the mistakes that the United States made in Iraq is simply an admission that Americans are not the best source of advice.

Friedman says Israel must capitulate to his demands so the United States can create a security structure. Was he sleeping when the Saudis joined the coalition that shot down Iranian drones and missiles targeting Israel? That integrated response did not depend, as Friedman insists, on Palestinian statehood. Taking after his Arabist sources, the two-state solution is Friedman’s unicorn that he will never admit is a delusion.

And if you weren’t already convinced that Friedman is an egotistical, clueless, patronizing windbag, his final sentence proves it: “I totally respect that Israelis are the ones who will have to live with the choice. I just want to make sure they know they have one.”

What would Israelis do without Thomas Friedman?

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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