Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The opportunity after the Gaza War

The brutal attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023, presents a challenging situation. However, it may have unforeseen consequences, such as weakening Iran's influence, potentially leading to a change in leadership in Gaza, and creating a more favorable political environment for peace and prosperity in the region, including for Palestinians.

Hamas's attack on Israel can be seen as an attempt by Iran, using one of its proxies, to disrupt the progress and success of the Abraham Accords. These Accords offer modernization, economic prosperity, and peace to a region that has been plagued by bitter conflicts with no hope of resolution for decades.

Iran's opposition to the Accords is driven by its desire for regional hegemony. Iran is a theocracy governed by totalitarian mullahs, leading a population of 90 million people with the intent to remove the U.S. presence from the Middle East and dominate its Sunni Muslim neighbors. Their leaders aspire to “restore a sense of “greatness” reminiscent of ancient Persian empires.” Iran uses proxies across the region to pursue its strategic goals with plausible deniability.

Contrary to the outcry from Hamas supporters worldwide and distorted intersectional views on U.S. college campuses, the attack was not about a continuing cycle of violence or a righteous anti-colonial struggle of the oppressed. Its purpose was to prevent the Abraham Accords from uniting Israel and Sunni Muslim states in the Middle East.

Iran employs proxies throughout the Middle East to challenge local and neighboring governments. These militias and parties receive support from Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, and Yemen. This allows Iran to pursue its strategic objectives while maintaining plausible deniability, as seen in incidents such as the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut and the recent attack on Israel.

Hamas had been planning its attack on Israel for over a year, with key support from Iranian allies. Iran's backing of Hamas has increased in recent years, with funding rising from $100 million to $700 million in 2022. Training, arms, logistical support, and technical guidance on weapons manufacturing have also increased. Although it seems unusual for Sunni Hamas leaders to align themselves with Shiite Iran, their shared interests in the destruction of Israel and substantial Iranian support forged this alliance.

Reports from The Wall Street Journal suggest that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp met with Hamas in Beirut to approve the attack on Israel. While the U.S. government claims it lacks direct evidence of an Iranian role in the attack, substantial evidence points to Iran's involvement, which some choose to deny in order to avoid direct confrontation with Iran.

The Biden Administration's policy changes, including a more conciliatory approach to Iran to restore nuclear negotiations, have emboldened the Iranian government. These changes have allowed Iran to earn significantly more from crude oil sales. Additionally, the release of $10 billion in frozen funds in Iraq in July and another $6 billion in frozen funds in Korea in September has provided the Iranian government with ample resources to pursue its objectives.

The Abraham Accords pose a challenge to Iran's ambitions. These agreements between Israel and several Arab states expand upon previous peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. As of now, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan have joined the Accords.

The Abraham process, initiated by the Trump Administration, emerged from frustration with the failure of the  1993 Oslo Accord process to achieve final agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Two attempts in 2000 and 2008 failed due to the refusal of Palestinian leaders Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. The Abraham process shifts the focus to the religious connection between all Abrahamic peoples. Abraham was the father of Isaac and Ishmael from whom the Jewish and Arab peoples descend respectively. Genetic studies affirm the Biblical connections of the two peoples.

The Accords document states, “Recognizing that the Arab and Jewish peoples are descendants of a common ancestor, Abraham, and inspired, in that spirit, to foster in the Middle East a reality in which Muslims, Jews, Christians and peoples of all faiths, denominations, beliefs and nationalities live in, and are committed to, a spirit of coexistence, mutual understanding and mutual respect… [AND] committed to working together to realize a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that meets the legitimate needs and aspirations of both peoples.”

Talk of expanding the Accords to include Saudi Arabia may have been too much for Iran to tolerate. The announcement of the India-MiddleEast-Europe Corridor initiative at the G20 Summit in India in September likely raised further concerns, not only for Iran but also for China and Russia. This corridor envisions a multi-faceted economic and energy route from India to Europe through Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The opportunity lies in the possibility that Iran may have overplayed its hand, confirming to the Abraham Accords participants that their perception of Iran as a source of violence and instability in the region is accurate. Forward-thinking leaders in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain are not deceived by this attempt to undermine their vision for the future. They may express concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people publicly, but they are likely to welcome the destruction of Hamas. Once the dust settles after the conflict, they will likely resume their efforts with renewed determination and a sense of urgency.

Israel, which stands to benefit the most from regional peace, has been compelled to take unwelcome military action to defend its people and restore conditions for further advancing the Abraham Accords. It cannot tolerate Hamas as the leadership in Gaza, as it risks a repeat of the horrors of October 7th with potentially even more devastating consequences.

Israel, the United States, and the Abraham Accords states must now work on setting the conditions for progress after Israel completes its military action. This includes establishing new leadership in Gaza committed to peace and willing to shift the culture and political narrative among Palestinians from an absolutist "from the river to the sea" chant that calls for the elimination of Israel to one that accepts that compromise is in their best interest.

Simultaneously, the United States must abandon its misguided efforts to pursue d├ętente with Iran and restore the Trump Administration's "maximum pressure" policy. It should lead an international effort to reduce the power of Iran's mullahs and dismantle their proxies in the Middle East. The participants in the Abraham process should join this effort as advocates for peace and prosperity in the region.

In the words of Jesus, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matt 5:9). Iran's actions have demonstrated it is a source of violence and instability in the Middle East. Those who seek peace and prosperity through the Abraham Accords are the true peacemakers. Their positive trajectory was disrupted by Iran and Hamas, causing the current violence. It is essential to recognize the difference between the two struggling parties and support those who seek peace.


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