(May 21, 2021 / JNS) The conflict in Gaza over the last two weeks highlighted a number of misperceptions and emerging trends between the United States and Israel. While the Biden administration largely supported Israel’s right to defend itself, it became clear as the conflict wore on that impatience was growing in America, largely among Democrats, over both U.S. support for Israel and the proportional use of force in the Gaza Strip.
At the same time, the conflict also came amid negotiations between Iran and world powers over a nuclear deal, as the Biden administration has made it a priority to re-enter the 2015 deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Experts say the role of Iran behind the conflict, as well as Hamas’s own bid for dominance in the Palestinian arena, cannot be overlooked.
Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told JNS that “from a strategic point of view, both Washington and Jerusalem should frame the Gaza conflict as an attack on the American security system in the Middle East.”
“Unfortunately,” he said, “the Biden administration is appeasing Iran, most notably at the negotiating tables in Vienna, where the Americans seek to coax Tehran back to the JCPOA.”
“The appeasement on the nuclear question leads to appeasement across the region,” said Doran, adding that the Biden administration “cannot acknowledge the role that Iran is playing in Gaza because if it does, it will be asked to leave the negotiating table in Vienna.”
Doran noted that it is a well-known, documented fact that rockets and missiles produced and obtained by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are funded by Iran.
“These terror groups openly acknowledge their strategic connection to the Quds Force for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps,” he said.
‘Avoiding anything that will make them angry’
Yossi Kuperwasser, director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center, said U.S. officials “sure don’t sound as if they consider Iran to be a threat.”
“They sound like they want to accommodate it,” he told JNS. “They are avoiding anything that will make them angry.”
Kuperwasser noted that even when the United States stopped a massive shipment of arms to Yemen earlier this month, “they didn’t say where it came from. The language used is to avoid confrontation with Iran.”
Another major issue that arose during the conflict against Hamas centered around a $735 million arms sale to Israel approved by the Biden administration before hostilities began on May 10. Progressives in the Democratic Party have called for a review of the sale, and some have promised to block it as they falsely accuse Israel of targeting innocent civilians in Gaza.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote on Twitter, “At a moment when U.S.-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a congressional debate.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also posted on Twitter, “The United States should not be rubber-stamping weapons sales to the Israeli government as they deploy our resources to target international media outlets, schools, hospitals, humanitarian missions and civilian sites for bombing.”
These blanket accusations against Israel paint the Jewish state as one that intentionally targets civilians using American munitions.
‘Tone is stridently anti-Israel and seemingly pro-Hamas’
Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS the opposite is true.
“The assistance American has supplied Israel has allowed it to strike surgically at Hamas targets,” which has allowed it to achieve a low civilian-casualty rate.
“It is these munitions that have helped Israel keep this fight to a surgical nature,” he said.
As for the progressive group of legislators, Schanzer said “they are small, but they are loud.”
“What is remarkable,” he observed, “is the tone of some of these legislators is stridently anti-Israel and seemingly pro-Hamas for that matter.”
Some of the lawmakers appear to have a utopian view of warfare, which has almost always involved the death of civilians. International law recognizes this, as long as it is proportionate. Some accuse Israel of targeting civilians; however, Israel goes out of its way to save human life, as noted by the Israel Defense Forces, intentionally using precision-guided munitions in an effort to kill only terrorists and avoid civilian deaths.
“It would not be disproportionate, were it not for Iron Dome,” said Schanzer, referring to Israel’s air-defense system that protects its cities from incoming rockets. “Hamas has tried to kill more civilians, and it’s tried to do more damage to Israel. This remarkable technology has prevented them from doing so. Israel should not be blamed for saving the lives of its own people, nor should it be blamed for responding to aggression.”
Schanzer added that he has “a hard time recalling another conflict where this rhetoric has been wielded to try to hamstring the party that did not start the war. It’s truly remarkable.”
Misconceptions about Sheikh Jarrah dispute
He also addressed the existing “misconception” in the United States regarding the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute in eastern Jerusalem.
Both the mainstream media and many Democrats viewed the issue as one of the top reasons behind the hostilities—an issue that is not new and that came to the fore this year during Ramadan and reaching a pressure point on May 10, Jerusalem Day.
“The Israeli court system is a legitimate court system that is generally beyond reproach,” said Schanzer. “This is not a casus belli. This is not an act of military aggression taken by Israel. The first act of military aggression was taken by Hamas. This has been lost in the U.S.”
Indeed, some point to Hamas’s own ambitions to be the dominant group within the Palestinian arena as a real factor behind the war. The conflict itself arose after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas canceled Palestinian elections scheduled for May 22 after it became clear that Hamas and his other rival were likely to be victorious. Hamas stirred tensions in Jerusalem, especially on the Temple Mount, to assert itself after Abbas canceled the elections.
He recalled the Second Palestinian Intifada that began in 2000 when the Palestinians (and some elements in the United States and Europe) blamed former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for visiting the Temple Mount and accused him of causing a provocation. That perceived act of war, according to the accusers, was the reason for organized violence carried out by Hamas and the P.A.
“The same would go for what just happened here,” he said, noting how the Palestinians, as well as some progressive U.S. legislators, among many others, point to the pending eviction of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah as a legitimate cause for a coordinated campaign of violence and the firing of more than 4,000 rockets directly into civilian areas of Israel.
“If there is disproportionate force,” said Schanzer, “I think we see where it is.”
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