Here is what I’m thinking on the night before the election:
In August 2006, Hezbollah soldiers crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who later died. Five more Israelis were killed in an attempt to rescue Goldwasser and Regev. The resulting war lasted 33 days, and ended in a stalemate when — due to incompetent leadership and poor preparation — Israel was forced to accept a disadvantageous settlement in the form of UN resolution 1701. The photo of Defense Minister Amir Peretz looking through field glasses without removing the lens caps speaks volumes.
Nevertheless, for almost a month (some say until Hezbollah atrocity stories caused Secretary Rice to put her foot down), the Bush Administration — with the silent backing of Sunni Arab nations — gave Israel a green light to finish Hezbollah. It was not the fault of the US that Israel blundered as badly as she did.
The Bush Administration — future historians will write about this — then did a complete about-face, and pushed the “Annapolis process” between Israel and the PLO, and probably played a major role in Israel’s decision to accept a truce with Hamas in Gaza rather than confronting it.
Today Hezbollah has more than rearmed and refortified. Hamas is building an “underground city” in Gaza, with tunnels and bunkers stocked with arms and explosives. Both are financed and supported by Iran, as is the massive missile buildup in Syria. Hezbollah now virtually controls Lebanon. Iran’s president has said over and over that Israel will disappear, and these are the tools that he thinks will make it so, with — he thinks — little direct risk to Iran.
There is no possibility, regardless of the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the PLO, that there will not be war between Israel and Hamas, and a second round with Hezbollah. We just don’t know when, and we don’t know whether it will be at a time chosen by Israel or her enemies.
What does this have to do with the American presidential election? I’m getting to that.
There are plenty of important issues in this election. There is health care (both candidate’s plans are worthless). There is the war in Iraq, and while they have different opinions about whether we should have invaded in the first place and whether we are ‘winning’ today, both will try to find a way to get the troops out, and the chips will fall where they fall. There is the economy — here nobody has a clue about what will work, certainly not the candidates.
Americans have to vote on the basis of what’s good for America, and the Middle East is only a tiny part of it. Of course, if Iran succeeds in taking control of the region and its oil reserves it will not be good for America (or for Europe, or Japan, for that matter). Although Israel is very small and vulnerable because of its size, it has a powerful military, it is allied with the US and thus acts as a counterbalance to Iranian ambitions. And if militant Islamism really does have expansionist ambitions, they lead directly through Israel.
So while I vehemently disagree with the ‘linkage’ theory which suggests that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the root of all the problems of the region, I do think that Israel and the US-Israel relationship are central to Western interests.
Which brings me to the coming war between Israel and the Iranian proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah. When it breaks out President Obama or President McCain will have to make a decision:
Should the US allow Israel — which has made great strides in military preparedness and has gotten rid of most of the culprits of the 2006 debacle — to defeat her enemies? Or should the US hold Israel back, producing another stalemate and a huge political victory for Iran?
There will be lots of pressure to take the latter course. It will come from those who think that any conflict is bad and should be prevented at almost any cost. It will come from those who say and even think that they support Israel, but are prepared to allow the noose around her neck to be tightened another notch — after all, look how strong Israel is. And it will come from those who want to see the Jewish state disappear and who understand that a military stalemate will quickly give rise to political consequences, as happened in 2006. A state that is not allowed to defend itself won’t survive.
Imagine the scenario: the missiles are falling on Israeli towns and cities, and the IAF is going after the launchers. They are mobile, buried, etc. and there are a lot of them. Israel is calling up reserves — unlike in 2006, the military and civilian leadership are not hesitating. The IDF has learned the lessons of 2006: they are already destroying Hezbollah’s command and control systems, there are new ways of dealing with bunkers, and there is decent intelligence.
And the US President picks up the phone.
Let’s invert the campaign ad and ask, who do you want to make that midnight call?