Since the 1990s, the dominant view in Israel’s national security community has been that Israel’s top priority in relation to the Palestinians is to maintain the stability of their leadership. This is the case in relation to both the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria and the Hamas regime in Gaza.
The rationale behind this view is that despite their hostility, if the regimes lose control things will be worse for Israel, which will have to take over, at great cost in lives and international stature. In other words, it’s either Fatah and Hamas or the Israel Defense Forces. And Israel’s security establishment prefers the former.
To achieve the goal of preserving the Fatah regime, Israel’s generals and their think-tank colleagues have long insisted the government ensure its financial viability. In practice, this has required Israel to collect customs and other indirect taxes for the P.A. and transfer the funds to it, with no strings attached, every month. The fact that the P.A. has always used large portions of its budget to finance terrorism was of little consequence to the generals and their colleagues.
In the case of Hamas-controlled Gaza, preserving the terrorist regime has required Israel to permit the P.A. to transfer funds to its employees in Gaza, even though by paying their salaries the P.A. effectively enabled Hamas to devote its resources solely to waging its war against Israel. Preserving Hamas has also involved Israel allowing Qatar to send truckloads of cash to Gaza to keep Hamas’s terror state afloat.
Safe in power—thanks to Israel—Fatah has been free to devote its energies to waging its multidimensional war against Israel. It funds terrorists—with the tax arrears Israel collects for it. It incites terror on its media organs—again paid for by the taxes Israel transfers. It pays its security forces and indoctrinates its members to seek Israel’s destruction. It engages in large-scale theft of government lands and illegal construction in Judea and Samaria to choke off Jewish communities. And the Fatah-P.A. wages diplomatic war against Israel at the United Nations, in the world capitals, and increasingly at the International Criminal Court.
Safe in power in Gaza, Hamas builds up its forces. It develops collaborative ties with Hezbollah and the Houthis and strengthens its client relationship with both Iran and Turkey. And every so often, it opens another missile offensive against Israel, aimed at killing and terrorizing Israeli civilians.
Whether they like it or not, the denizens of Hamastan and Fatahland alike have no choice other than to live under the jackboot of their regimes. Thanks to Israel—and its stability-minded security experts—they have no chance of competing for power or rebelling.
Israel’s security community isn’t alone in its preference for stability—even at the cost of strengthening enemies. Their American colleagues are in the same cognitive boat. The place where the Americans have been pushing this position most strongly in recent years is in Lebanon. Following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, despite the direct assistance both the Lebanese government and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) provided Hezbollah in its war against Israel, the Bush administration massively expanded U.S. civilian and military assistance to the Lebanese government and the LAF. Obama expanded the aid packages still further. And despite opposition from some quarters of the Trump administration, the Pentagon insists on maintaining the assistance.
Much like their Israeli counterparts, the U.S. security brass insists that despite the fact that Hezbollah is a more powerful military force than the LAF, and indeed dominates it, and despite the fact that Hezbollah controls the Lebanese government, both the government and the LAF should be treated as independent organizations. Their stability and ties to U.S. aid may, in time, enable them to assert national authority over their country.
There are several problems with this view. The main problem is that under the current system, Hezbollah rules the roost and so long as the system remains unchanged, Hezbollah will continue to control the government and the LAF; no matter how many aircraft, night vision devices, mortars and artillery pieces U.S. taxpayers buy the LAF and no matter how much civilian assistance they buy the Lebanese government. The only way to change the situation is to change the system. And the U.S. military and civilian assistance to the Lebanese government and LAF preserves the system.
The counterproductive nature of the shared preference of the Israeli and U.S. security elites for stability above all was exposed with brutal clarity by the civil war in Syria.
For decades both Israeli and American security authorities supported the Assad regime in Syria. As they still argue with regard to the Palestinians and the Lebanese, the experts insisted that the Assad tyranny was better than any alternative. True, both Hafez Assad and his son and heir Bashar Assad sponsored terrorism and developed weapons of mass destruction. True, under their rule, Syria served and continues to serve as a Russian and Iranian satellite and a hub for global terrorism.
But the longevity of the regime made it seem credible. Since it survived, the American and Israeli security experts argued, it was a stabilizing force. Even as the Assads facilitated and often ordered Hezbollah and other terror groups to attack Israeli and American targets, the Israeli and American security communities insisted it wasn’t really interested in the chaos it was provoking. It was just letting off steam. Or something.
Moreover, they believed that eventually, the Assads could be appeased into signing a piece of paper with the word “peace” on it for the bargain price of the Golan Heights. And when that happened, the Syrians would disband the terror forces they sponsored themselves and walk away from the Russians and the Iranians.
Due to the Assads’ chokehold on their citizens, opposition groups, such as they were, were largely powerless and incapable of providing credible or useful intelligence to Israel and the United States.
And then the inconceivable happened. The Syrian people revolted and the status quo regime was no more.
Israel was not harmed by the destabilization of the Assad dynasty. It was empowered. Assad couldn’t back Hezbollah strikes against Israel when he needed them in Syria to protect him. So the civil war in Syria reduced the prospect of a Hezbollah strike on Israel to an unprecedented low.
Then there were the Syrians themselves. It worked out that once the people began rising up against their oppressor, they were eager to reach out to Israel. Even as Israel maintained an official position of complete impartiality in the war in Syria, and deployed no forces across its border, the Syrians themselves were willing to reward Israel’s humanitarian assistance with significant intelligence assistance.
According to multiple reports and sources, today, nine years after the war broke out, Syria is an open book for Israeli intelligence. And thanks to Israel’s intelligence prowess in Syria, it has gained unprecedented intelligence gathering capabilities throughout the Arab world and in Iran.
This then brings us to Lebanon. Lebanon doesn’t appear to be on the brink of civil war, but it is in the midst of economic and civic collapse. Electricity is now supplied a mere two to three hours a day. Lebanon’s currency has been devaluated by 60 percent over the past year, and its credit rating is lower than Venezuela’s. Hezbollah’s control over the country has driven out Arab investors and dried up aid dollars from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
U.S. sanctions ended Iran’s financial support of Hezbollah. Government corruption has prevented the International Monetary Fund from lending it cash. Lebanese banks are going bankrupt. Even the Chinese don’t want to throw good money after bad.
There appears to be only one force in the world today that may save Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon from destruction: the Pentagon.
Last week, General Kenneth McKenzie, the Commander of the U.S. Army Central Command, expressed understanding for the Lebanese government’s subordination to Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah remains a problem, it remains an issue,” McKenzie said in an online news conference.
“We recognize that it’s there. We’d be—I’d be blind to say we don’t see it there. We recognize that … local people there in Lebanon have to make accommodations as a result of that.”
In other words, the U.S. military is fine with Hezbollah control over the Lebanese government and military. During a visit in Beirut earlier this month McKenzie expressed the United States’ continued commitment to supporting both.
To be clear. Lebanon is collapsing. But the day after the government—and its Hezbollah overlords—go down, the Lebanese people will still be in Lebanon, adrift and suffering to be sure, but very much alive and looking for a way forward.
Although reports are increasing that Iran wants Hezbollah to attack Israel in retaliation for the recent fires and explosions at Iranian nuclear and missile sites, if Hezbollah attacks Israel, the Lebanese, (who are beginning to starve) will not rally to its side. To the contrary.
As was the case in Syria, the destabilization or collapse of the Lebanese government and Hezbollah will not harm Israel (or the United States). It will harm their enemies and open up a whole new set of opportunities for Israel and the United States to work with Lebanese people, who are not their enemies, to the benefit of all concerned. Such cooperation will not require Israeli or American boots on the ground.
This brings us to the Palestinians.
Last weekend, Defense Minister Benny Gantz extended for an additional 45 days a suspension of Israel’s terror finance laws in Judea and Samaria that he first instituted last month. In so doing, Gantz gave a green light to the P.A. to continue financing terrorists and their families and transferring their payments to terrorists through Palestinian banks without exposing either the P.A. or the banks to financial sanction and criminal prosecution. In response to an outcry by the parents of terror victims, Gantz insisted that he was acting at the behest of the security community.
Because again, from the perspective of Israel’s old-guard security brass, the most frightening phrase in the world is “P.A. collapse.” They will work to prevent it even if it means paying the salaries of Palestinian terrorists.
Thanks to the Israeli security community’s slavish devotion to stability, neither Hamas nor Fatah need to concern themselves with internal dissent. Rather than rebel against their Fatah and Hamas overlords, (and turn towards Israel), the various Palestinian factions maintain themselves by joining their regimes in attacking Israel. It’s the only game in town. Were the P.A. and the Hamas regime to collapse, the dynamic would change. And as has been the case in Syria, the Palestinians’ choices would change.
Although it is easy to understand the allure of stability, relations with enemy regimes are inherently unstable and today more than ever, our world is unstable. Our enemies are either collapsing or on the brink of collapse. No Israeli interest is served by saving them.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Jewish News Syndicate