This is a perilous time for Israel. Yet for as far back as I can remember, in the days leading up to and including Ramadan, there have always been vicious and unfounded rumors that “Al-Aqsa is in danger” or that “The Jews will desecrate the Al-Aqsa mosque with their filthy feet.”
Unfortunately, Al Jazeera—the Qatar-owned television station that goes throughout the world—prominently fans the flames of this rumor, as its writers and editors customarily do in the days leading up to Ramadan.
But this Ramadan is different for several reasons. The geostrategic dynamics have radically shifted in the past two years. It is increasingly evident that the United States is no longer the dominant power in the Middle East and that Pax Americana, which has maintained the liberal world order since the end of World War II, has been eclipsed by authoritarian regimes with hegemonic ambitions.
The United States has receded into the sunset in the Middle East and is being eclipsed by Tehran, Moscow and Beijing. That is why Beijing was able to broker an agreement between Riyadh and Tehran just one day after The Wall Street Journal had published a report of what Saudi Arabia would expect from the United States for a deal with Israel, taking Israel and the West by total surprise, and upending Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to have Saudi Arabia join the Abraham Accords.
Now former Sunni and Shi’ite rivals are visiting one another in their capitals, leaving Israel increasingly more isolated in the neighborhood within which they are forced to live.
When the United States was the dominant power in the region and the world—and there was a perceived closeness between the United States and Israel—there was much more of an element of caution, inhibiting just how far an enemy regime could go in its plans to eliminate “the Zionist entity.”
But now there is President Joe Biden, who vowed on the campaign trail that he would end “forever wars” in the Middle East; withdrew U.S. troops precipitously from Afghanistan; and is bent on a foreign-policy deal with Iran, with no “Plan B,” even going so far as trying to negotiate a deal with Iran up until last week.
This further infuriates the Gulf nations and the Sunni Muslim world.
King Abdullah of Jordan recently met with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, vowing that “Jordan will always be with you” and that “It is the duty of every Muslim to deter Israeli escalations against … holy sites in Jerusalem. Even though Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, Jordanian King Hussein has never refrained from using his bully pulpit to further inflame passions against the Jewish state.
Within the last 40 years, the struggle for Palestine has metamorphosized from simply a revolutionary battle for the conquest of the land into something much more essential than that. It is that, plus the struggle for authentic Islamic identity. That is why the Palestinian cause and the regnant part that Islam plays in it has become an indispensable part of the Islamic psyche.
Jerusalem is not the holiest city in Islam; it ranks below Mecca and Medina. That is what Muslims turn to and face when they pray to Allah five times a day. However, with each passing year since the 1967 Israeli conquest of eastern Jerusalem by a tiny 19-year-old Jewish nation, the city has become a supreme humiliation to many Muslims throughout the world. And the holiness of Jerusalem and Al-Aksa has become reified in the hearts of many of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims.
Whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, this cannot easily be argued away by glib statements by Israeli cabinet members about Palestinian borders, culture or history. Such flippancy simply serves to further inflame religious passions and increase the likelihood of further Palestinian violence.
With the iconography of the Palestinian fighter etched into the identity of many Muslims throughout the world, traveling at the speed of light through generations of indoctrination from teachers and textbooks, and via Doha’s control of Al Jazeera through the media, it is not a notion that can easily be dislodged by a few cynical words.
As has happened in the past on Ramadan, members of Palestinian terrorist groups barricaded themselves within Al-Aksa, prohibiting worshippers from exiting and threatening Jewish worshippers who gather down below at the Western Wall in celebration of Passover. The Israeli police force responded with might. Videos of Israeli police entering and forcefully responding to the situation in the mosque have spread like wildfire, further inciting crowds against Israel.
Due mainly to mass hysteria, the power of religion over religious identity and affiliation, and the one-sided narrative that has been spoon-fed to the Palestinian population for decades now, four innocent victims have recently fallen in terrorist attacks. On April 8, 35-year-old Alexandro Perini, an Italian tourist, was murdered in a car-ramming terrorist attack while walking along the beach in Tel Aviv, and sisters Rina and Maia Dee, ages 15 and 20, were shot and killed in a terrorist attack while traveling north in their car to Tiberias for the Passover holiday. Their mother, Lucy, age 48, succumbed to her wounds a few days later and was buried before the final days of Passover.
There are no words to describe the agony of these losses, particularly for their families.
Israel is now facing a multifront war.
On April 6, Iranian-backed Hezbollah launched a barrage of no less than 34 rockets from Lebanon. On April 7, Israeli forces intercepted a drone launched from Lebanon into Israeli airspace, and on April 8, a barrage of eight was launched from Palestinian terrorists onto Israel.
Israel’s enemies, particularly Iran, understand that with an Israeli populace radically polarized and divided against one another on the issue of judicial reforms—and with an administration in the White House that is somewhat cool to Israel and has yet to invite the elected prime minister for an official visit—now is the ideal time to strike at Israel.
Israel has absolutely no choice but to respond with force. The Israeli populace has got to understand the existential threats they now face and that the issues that divide them are much weaker than those that unite them.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.