The war between Hamas and Israel is serious, but needs to be put in context. It is dangerous, could escalate, has cost innocent lives, involves resurgent terrorism, and is a surrogate for war with Iran, which underwrites Hamas, which attacked Israel, and has put innocent Israelis and Palestinians in harm’s way.
The war is also a possible inflection point, highlighting how terrorists and their supporters think. Weakness is an opportunity; aggression follows appeasement. The opposite of peace through strength, preparation, readiness, and clarity, is war through weakness, indifference, distraction, miscalculation.
The Middle East is a tinderbox, centuries-old sectarian, religious, and existential conflicts, compounded by blood vendettas. In that part of the world, periodically bathed in uneasy peace, polarization is in its 400th generation. The idea of a permanent peace, stability as the norm, seems to near fantasy to many.
So, why is this sudden turn for the worse, a kinetic clash between Hamas and Israel, one that has already taken hundreds of lives, an inflection point? Here are the core reasons.
First, it should wake us up to reality: The surge of Hamas violence, Iran turning up terror, comes days after Joe Biden gave Iran $6,000,000,000 for five American hostages, an act that violates geopolitical common sense, decades-old US policy, and US law forbidding negotiation with terrorists for hostages.
What does that tell us? This senseless act convinced Iran the US has no spine, meaning no principle. Just as Biden pocketed millions in foreign money by selling his office, anti-terror laws now have no weight.
What Iran saw – and the whole world saw – was weakness. Appeasement is Biden’s strategy, which really means rolling over, feeding the beast from fear, hoping it eats you last, to paraphrase Churchill.
That single act opened the door to elevated regional and global terror, while raising the price on Americans abroad, punching up the risk of state and private kidnappings of Americans for ransom. It also encouraged Iran – and all terror groups they sponsor – to think America has no will to contain them.
Of course, worst of all, Biden’s payout or appeasement gambit gave Iran six billion dollars to finalize nuclear weapons and a delivery system, something Trump’s sanctions made hard. The nuclear push got easier after Iran kicked out the inspectors, days after Biden’s senseless payout.
So, first and foremost, this war can be laid at Biden’s feet, and his feckless State Department, the same one that yanked us out of Afghanistan. While US allies in the Middle East have hoped, worked, and made progress toward peace, Biden dropped a rock on the glass table, shattered the whole thing, gains lost.
Second, this conflict signals a wider concern, the encouragement, empowerment, or re-empowerment of terrorist groups globally, from Afghanistan to this hemisphere. Terrorism is contagious. This means US forces globally will have to be on elevated alert, as will Americans and allies globally.
At a time when US weapons and material inventories have been drained for the Ukraine conflict, when the US strategic petroleum reserve was drained for political purposes, and when we have a potential two-front war to worry about in Europe and China, we now have a third front – the Middle East. If you add elevated protection of the Homeland, a fourth has just re-opened.
All this was unnecessary, the folly of a foreign policy that misunderstands history, thinks our time is fundamentally different, mis-prioritizes threats, misses the linkage between one act and the globe.
Closer to the action, this war leaves innocent Israelis and Palestinians in a state of shock, fear, and elevated peril, while raising the likelihood of escalation, hot wars in other regional hotspots.
What the world did not need right now is another war, source of bad news, tinderbox gone hot, which could have been avoided.
If there is any hope to be found in this sudden chaos, it may be that Western leaders, perhaps even China, see new value in cooperating to tamp down Middle East tensions, restarting the bilateral peace process Trump began, and eventually bringing a higher degree of peace to Israel and the Palestinians.
I can hear the sighs now, and commiserate. Hunting for a silver lining in a hurricane, with no sun, seems Pollyannish. Perhaps. But the redeeming feature of making a mistake is the lesson, relearning the lesson. Appeasement never works, never has and never will. Leadership – plain and simple – really matters.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.