Josef Olmert
Josef Olmert

US and Iran, Israel and Hamas: The same mistake

It is arguably the case, that Israelis, whether in government positions or just ordinary citizens, like to taunt Americans by claiming that ”we know what REALLY happens in the Middle East”. It is because we are not naïve like our American friends, as we are from there, so we know and understand better. It may be considered an attitude that is part of the Israeli self-image of confidence, some will say arrogance, and it can be also the inevitable result of so many years of conflict. In the end, it is naturally the feeling, that we are more knowledgeable, more suited to explain the region and its politics. Well, we are not.

The latest campaign with Hamas is a clear indication of that. This campaign happens despite the well-articulated arguments to the contrary of the best brains in the Israeli military, intelligence and government who did not foresee the storm coming, and is based on the same line of thinking which leads the US in its current policy of appeasement towards Iran, as it before during the two terms of President Obama.

Here is in a nutshell what the concept was about Hamas. They control Gaza, so that in itself means that they have a lot to lose if they start a military confrontation with Israel, and we need to strengthen this interest by allowing Qatar to deliver them millions of dollars on a monthly basis, as well as doing all kinds of gestures on Israel’s part which will be seen by them as a sign of goodwill. The more incentives they have to behave nice, to keep the quiet and refrain from a military confrontation with Israel the better. They are rational people, they understand the overall geopolitical situation and sure enough, they really care about their people. There is misery in Gaza, so help them alleviate it, and you gain the goodwill of the caring leaders of the people, the Hamas leaders. This is a concept that is based on a fundamental premise. This is how WE understand what should be a rational policy of Hamas, and if this is what WE understand, then THEY also do behind the closed doors of the Hamas leadership sessions. Let us leave it at that and move to the US-Iran relations.

When the Obama-Biden administration justified the infamous Iran nuclear deal in 2015, the main argument was the classic Liberal assertion, that here is a rational regime, which realizes its vulnerabilities and weaknesses and on top of all, is eager to improve a lot of its poor, suffering people. So, the simple conclusion it was to bribe them with money, to provide them the means to give back to their people and therefore to unfreeze the Iranian assets and money that hitherto were subjected to the crippling sanctions imposed on Iran, and money was indeed given, nearly 2 BN $ in actual cash money which was delivered to the Ayatollahs in secret. Here is sanctions money, here is Qatari money in the case of Hamas, and in simple terms here is what appeasement is all about. You decide for your protagonist what is important to them, they are clever enough to receive every handout you give them, and then all will be rosy and cozy. Just to put it in a bigger, more comprehensive historic context, this is exactly what the Chamberlain government tried to do with Hitler almost to the last day before the outbreak of WW2-to bribe him. Dr. Helmut Wohlstat was the envoy to talks in London about a generous credit to Germany from impoverished Great Britain as a bribe to appease the Nazi dictator.

So, here are now the results of what the US did in 2015, and what it intends to do again, but also what are the results of what Israel has done with Hamas. The terror regime in Iran said a very nice thank you, got the money, and what was not given to the private pockets of the leaders was given to the Revolutionary Guards, to the Houthis in Yemen and to militias in Iraq and Hizballah in Lebanon. The Iranian people? Well, not a really prime concern. How do we know it? Simply, because there were mass protests in Iran on various occasions when large crowds yelled ”no to Gaza, no to Hizballah”. Iran became more belligerent rather than less. And what happened with Hamas? Well, that is obvious now-Hamas started the Jerusalem war, contrary to all the predictions/assessments/analysis. Why does it happen, or rather where is the mistake, the same mistake that Americans and Israelis are doing?

The biggest mistake that we do is, that we do not believe our enemies, that we do not listen to what they say and mean. We simply look down at ideology, we do not understand the level of motivation of the other side, in short, we patronize them by deciding for them. Hamas does want to ”liberate” Jerusalem, Hamas does believe that it is possible, Hamas is ready to sacrifice a lot in order to attain this goal and Hamas is really taking seriously words like honor and history. Put in sum, they really believe in their stated ideology, and it is taken by so many of us to be a surprise. It should not be, as well as it should not be with regard to the Iranians, so far as the US is concerned. Yes, the Iranian regime really wants to destroy Israel, they really believe that it is their sacred mission and that they should sacrifice a lot in order to achieve it. It is NOT to suggest, that their excessive level of motivation as in the case of Hamas makes them right. Regimes and societies can be fanatically motivated in the service of the evilest causes on earth. It is to understand what leads them in their decision-making process. They take into consideration a lot of the factors which shape the same processes in Israel and the US, but they also, almost always take their ideological commitments to be on top of everything else. Whether we like it or not, we have to adapt ourselves to this reality, as sad as it may be, as sobering as it should be.

Hamas wants to destroy Israel, Hamas believes that it should try doing that, and consequently the Israeli calculus as to how to deal with Hamas now and in the future should first and foremost be based on this realization.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina
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