How the Middle East Conflict Leads Back to US National Security
During the Biden administration’s highest-level in-person visit, Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to the Middle East to seize the momentum created by the Gaza ceasefire last week in what could be the first step back towards the peace talks.
The Biden administration has been criticized for failing to take more aggressive steps to try to end the back-and-forth attacks ahead of the deal, as some members of Biden’s own party called on the United States to take a more stance. firm against Israel’s actions in response to a series of rocket attacks.
The Cipher Brief brought in our expert Norm Roule to find out how an intelligence professional examines recent events in the Middle East and how they relate to US national security..
Norman T. Roule served for 34 years in the CIA, managing numerous programs relating to Iran and the Middle East. He served as the Director of National Intelligence for Iran (NIM-I) in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from November 2008 to September 2017. As NIM-I, Norm was the chief executive of the intelligence community (IC) responsible for overseeing all aspects. national intelligence policy and Iran-related activities, to include IC’s engagement on Iranian issues with senior politicians from the National Security Council and the State Department.
We asked Norm to start by sharing his key observations on what has happened to date.
Rolled: A handful comes to mind.
First of all, the world has just witnessed another spasm of violence in the Middle East that has left hundreds of civilians – including dozens of children – dead, more than a thousand injured and thousands unaffected. -sheltered, without any significant change in the status quo. The post-conflict situation virtually guarantees that similar violence will happen again. Unfortunately, there is no sign that the international community – or the Israeli and Palestinian leaders – are ready to devote diplomatic and political capital to achieving a settlement that would alleviate the well-documented suffering of the Palestinian people and the deadly threats against them. Israeli citizens.
Second, Arabs and Israeli Jews have engaged in inter-communal violence and social entropy to a degree not seen in decades, perhaps not since the founding of Israel. These long-simmering internal tensions have flared up in the eyes of the world, shattering Israel’s image of peaceful relations among its citizens of different faiths. We may be seeing a taste of what a one-state solution might mean in practice.
Second, I think we have witnessed the consequences of years of Iranian support for Hamas to develop its weapons technologies. Despite the successes achieved in stopping much of Sudan’s arms smuggling via Egypt, Israel’s repeated attacks on Syria to reduce the ability of Palestinian and Lebanese militants to acquire precision-guided weapons, and the constraints that the maximum pressure exerted on the Iranian resources of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the offensive capabilities of Hamas gradually developed to become of unprecedented scope. Hamas certainly does not have the capacity to destroy Israel, but it can shape the psychology of conflict and threaten much of Israeli territory. A new nuclear deal with Iran will almost certainly increase the funding, training and weaponry that Tehran provides to these militants.
Fourth, the Biden administration has seen how difficult it is to avoid getting involved in crises in the Middle East. In recent days, the president and senior officials have contacted leaders of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatari to try to end the violence. I don’t think this episode will change the administration’s perspective on America’s need to devote less energy to the region, but it may speed up the creation of an architecture to deal with its problems. Related to this, an unprecedented number of Democrats have criticized Israel and spoken of blocking US military support for the IDF. This change cannot be ignored by an administration that must consider how to maintain democratic control of the House of Representatives in 2022.
The encryption brief: How do you see this latest conflict compared to previous Israeli-Palestinian conflicts in recent years?
Rolled: Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, there have been six Israeli-Palestinian military conflicts, approximately one every eighteen months. Each event has followed a similar path, but I can think of a few differences with this last conflict.
First, Hamas succeeded in firing thousands of rockets at more civilian targets threatening millions of Israelis, Americans and other innocent nationals, including Palestinians. About 360,000 Palestinians live in Jerusalem, and Arabs in Israel number about 1.9 million, or about 21% of the population. In addition, of the more than 4,000 rockets fired by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, nearly 700 landed in Gaza itself.
The conflict has sparked unprecedented inter-communal violence in Israel that will take years to overcome. Finally, Israel has demonstrated an intelligence capability that has conducted air operations targeting the militant military architecture and the individuals that underpin it.
The encryption brief: Can either side claim a strategic victory at this point?
Rolled: Each side will claim that they have demonstrated their ability to defend their people using ranged tools, but neither can claim strategic victory. There is perhaps no better example than the iconic photographs of Palestinian rockets and Iron Dome defenses playing in the night sky. Each will designate these images as a defeat for the other.
The brief number: What will be the impact of the conflict on the political fate of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders?
Rolled: In general, the leadership of Hamas and Israel is likely to experience a temporary spike in popularity that wears off over the weeks. Right-wing leaders are likely to dominate their respective political spheres for the foreseeable future. If I had to nominate a winner in this category, I would say it is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Just days before the fighting began, Netanyahu looked likely to lose office. It would probably have meant the end of his political career. However, he once again confirmed the adage that “cats wish they had as many lives as Netanyahu”. The conflict thwarted Israeli politician Yair Lapid’s efforts to form a new coalition and forced rivals like Naftali Bennett to back Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis. Israel now faces the prospect of a fifth general election in two years and Netanyahu has another chance to lead.
On the other hand, Hamas will argue that it has brought the Palestinian issue back to the forefront of world attention. He will also claim that, unlike the Palestinian Authority, Hamas has the leadership and the capacity to defend the rights of the Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem. Abbas was largely irrelevant in recent events, but will likely find the international community eager to embark on an unlikely effort to bolster its stature against Hamas and find a way to revive the moribund peace process.
The encryption brief: What about tactical successes?
Rolled: Each side can list important tactical successes, and both have demonstrated the ability to strike opponents using long-range weapons.
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