Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Ground Shifts in the Middle East

by Elliott Abrams
August 22, 2011

How quickly the ground has shifted in the Middle East. The apparent fall of Tripoli suggests that the Gaddafi regime will not last long, and this must send shivers down the spine of the cousins who run the Assad mafia in Damascus. For once Gaddafi is gone all attention will turn to the remaining Arab despotism, and the opposition to Assad will grow in energy and confidence. Now is the time to turn up the pressure and make Assad fall sooner rather than later, for every additional week means scores more Syrians murdered in the streets of the country. Then attention will have to turn to the next act: the one in which we see, in Tunisia and Egypt, in Libya and Syria, if decent, stable, democratic governments can be built. It now looks as if the Arab Spring was the lead-in to a hot summer for the remaining tyrants. The issue we all face for the winter is what the United States can do to help avoid chaos or repression in those countries as they seek to build new political systems.

Meanwhile it is becoming a hot summer for Israel as well. The economic and social protests of the last month in that country have been pushed aside by a new conflict with Hamas. The largest terrorist attack in months took place last week near Eilat, killing seven and wounded twenty-five. That attack appears to have emerged from Sinai, which is fast coming loose from Egyptian control and falling under that of Bedouin criminal gangs and Palestinian terrorists. Whether the Egyptian military has the power and strength to re-assert control of Sinai seems to me very doubtful, which means Israel will have to build a security fence there much like the one it has built to stop Palestinian terrorism from the West Bank.

Moreover, since “Operation Cast Lead” in late 2008 and early 2009 Hamas has limited attacks on Israel by its own forces and rival gangs in Gaza. No more; now Hamas and its partners have announced the truce is over and sent dozens of rockets into Israel in the last few days.

All of that puts the PLO claim that it is ready for statehood in a different light, for it reminds us that Ramallah has no control over events in Gaza—even including making war on Israel, which these rocket and mortar attacks clearly are. It renders any U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood even more obviously unreal and unhelpful, for the greater problem Palestinians suffer is that half their populace is under the domination of an Islamic terrorist group.

It also shows how foolish has been recent U.S. and EU policy, constantly criticizing Israel whenever a plan to build a new apartment house is announced. The Quartet has turned itself into a real estate monitor, doing nothing to address and help solve far more real and more complex problems for Israelis and Palestinians both. The beginning of a more practical and useful approach would be complete solidarity with Israel now as it faces these acts of war, and responds to them to protect its population. Punishing and deterring Hamas is essential now, if calm is to be restored. Once upon a time the British, at least, understood how one deals with aggression; and so did we. It would be nice to see Secretary Clinton and Lady Ashton sounding a bit more like Mrs. Thatcher these days. And might the president interrupt his vacation long enough to make a strong statement, on camera, expressing real solidarity with the people of Israel in the face of the threats and attacks they are suffering each day?

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by sam

    i’m absolutely astounded,how could an organization as prestigious as cfr have an appalling blogger. the likes of Abrams with their vitriolic comments only add insult to injury. will some people of conscience remove this menace and let some fresh air in.

  • Posted by Tiga

    Mr Abrams,

    You said it, the US and EU are just “critizing” the ILLEGAL Israeli settlements, so foolish! And they have not said anything against the revenge killing of a palestinian child. I think Israel should focus on punishing the criminals rather than innocent children as they did in 2008/09.


  • Posted by Dan Friedman

    We still have no idea what kind of regimes will replace the ones overturned in the last few months. Egypt gives us a glimpse and it’s not encouraging. But what we know for sure is Israel’s weak response to the Sinai terror attack just inspires more of the same.

  • Posted by MJ

    The Clinton State Department did not say one word about the missile attacks on Israel over the weekend. Not one single word of condemnation of Hamas nor any expression of solidarity with Israel. Needless to say, not one member of the always anti-Israel State Department press crew asked anything about the missile attacks either.

  • Posted by JamesF

    We trade known for the unknown as far as us policy is concerned with failing Arab governments. Good from human rights view, but we now work on understanding final outcome. Sme prevention needs to happen from the us in making sure democratic elections can fairly proceed for these citizens of these Arab countries sacrificing much to have a say in how they’re governed. The key is too also make sure stable economies appear and that these nations can tap into the globalization phenomenon. Weak economy + jobless youth population + active Islamic activists with a huge propaganda regime = terrorist problems for the u.s. Must remember that these cultures democracy may not look exactly like the u.s. One and that’s ok.
    Israel has always responded with swift retribution and still they are repeatedly attacked. What has been going on for so long is not a final solution. Everyone needs stable economies and trading ties to eliminate wars. Must make war too costly to end it.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    It’s become evident over the last six months that events in the Middle East are advancing too rapidly for the myopic Obama administration to respond in a focused , agile manner . The inability of the U.S. State Department and White House to walk and chew gum at the same time bodes ill for Israel in particular and the region in general .

  • Posted by Likud of Holland

    Appeasement of dictators and terrorists never works.

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