War is always imminent in Israel. The challenge is not in forecasting the conflict, but in anticipating when exactly it will happen, and more importantly, making sure we never grow deaf to the bells of war.
Last Friday, Charles Krauthammer recalled the conditions that preceded the 1967 Six-Day War. “May ‘67 was Israel’s most fearful, desperate month,” he wrote. “The country was surrounded and alone. Previous great-power guarantees proved worthless. … Time was running out. Forced into mass mobilization in order to protect against invasion—and with a military consisting overwhelmingly of civilian reservists—life ground to a halt. The country was dying.”
But while everyone remembers the Six-Day War, Krauthammer wrote, “less remembered is that [on June 1, 1967] the nationalist opposition … was for the first time ever brought into the government, creating an emergency national unity coalition” (emphasis added throughout). Four days later, the reason for Israel’s hasty political consolidation became evident when a united and stable government ordered a deadly preemptive strike on Egypt’s army.
The formation of a national unity coalition was a precursor to war.
On May 7, 2012, almost 45 years later to the day—with Israel once again “desperate and alone,” in a “fearful, desperate” state—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged from midnight talks to suddenly and unexpectedly announce that he had formed the largest national unity government ever in Israel’s short history. With the addition of Kadima, Bibi Netanyahu now controls 94 out of the 120 seats in the Knesset.
As in June 1967, Israel’s government is today more united and stable than ever.
Why now? Is it possible, as Krauthammer suggests, that war might soon erupt? “War is not four days away, but it looms,” he wrote. “Israelis today face the greatest threat to their existence—nuclear weapons in the hands of apocalyptic mullahs publicly pledged to Israel’s annihilation—since May ‘67.”
But it’s not just Iran’s nuclear weapons program that alarms Israel and makes war possible.
You wouldn’t know it, listening to all his tough talk and warmongering, but the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is weaker and more vulnerable than most realize. Ahmadinejad faces a growing list of potentially debilitating problems—domestically, within the region and from far abroad. And for Iran’s Holocaust-denying, Jew-hating, apocalypse-inducing president, the window of opportunity to act on his deadly ambitions is closing.
Over the past 18 months, Ahmadinejad has been increasingly at odds with Iran’s mullahs, and especially Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate spiritual and political authority in Iran. In addition, Ahmadinejad’s grip on parliament has also slipped substantially. In the May 4 run-off parliamentary election, the president’s opponents won 41 of the 65 seats up for grabs. His opponents now have more seats in parliament. With his popularity slipping, his political power waning, and presidential elections slated for June 2013, Ahmadinejad is running out of time to act with force and decisiveness. Put differently, he has little to lose, which makes him more dangerous than ever.
Ahmadinejad is also facing enormous pressure throughout the region. Saudi Arabia, Iran’s primary counterweight in the region, is ramping up its opposition to Tehran’s regional hegemony. It is shoring up relations with “moderate” allies and developing closer relations with Europe, especially Germany. On Monday, an agreement by Gulf states to explore a Saudi-led plan to develop a political union (akin to the EU) sparked a furious response from Iran.
Meanwhile, evidence suggests Iran’s relations with Hamas and Hezbollah, its surrogates in Gaza and southern Lebanon, aren’t as rosy as many assume. In a public speech last February, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced, “Iran does not command us.” In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh stated in a recent Reuters interview that “Hamas is a Palestinian movement that acts within the Palestinian arena and it carries out its political and field actions in a way that suits the interests of the Palestinian people. Iran did not ask anything from us and we think Iran is not in need of us.”
Reuters reported Hamas as saying that “it will not go to war for Iran.”
Then there’s Syria, where the violent revolution against strongman and Ahmadinejad-confidant Bashar al-Assad continues. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters are being persecuted; thousands have been arrested, tortured or killed. But the anti-government movement refuses to capitulate. Despite the silence and inaction of the West, the consensus is that Assad will eventually be toppled and the regime replaced. The loss of Syria as a pro-Iran, terrorist-sponsoring, anti-Israel ally would be catastrophic for Ahmadinejad.
The more these pressures build and converge, the more likely it is that Ahmadinejad will have to choose. Will he abandon his dream of an Islamic caliphate headquartered in Jerusalem and slip into the night quietly? Or will he go down fighting?
Incidentally, think about what an opportunity this is for President Obama. America’s archenemy, the head of the terrorist snake, is facing a multitude of severe, potentially devastating problems, including political isolation at home, social unrest, and the potential loss of vital proxies throughout the region. Moreover, Iran’s regional enemies would likely support any strategy to undermine Iranian hegemony. Sure, Ahmadinejad is wounded, hence dangerous. But he’s also distracted, weakened and vulnerable. This is potentially a historic opportunity.
America will undoubtedly squander it.
But Bibi Netanyahu may not.
The bells of war aren’t just ringing in Tehran. They’re also clanging in Cairo, where later this month millions of Egyptians will elect a new president. No one knows who Egypt’s next leader will be. But he is certain to be hostile to Israel. It appears Mohammud Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, could be elected. What would Mursi mean for Israel?
Last week, the Middle East Media Research Institute (memri) posted chilling footage from a recent rally at which Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi encouraged voters to elect Mursi. With Mursi smiling supportively beside him, Sheikh Higazai declared that Mursi would help establish the dream of an Islamic caliphate. Within a few seconds, Higazai had gotten to the essence of why Egyptians, especially Muslim Brotherhood supporters, needed to get behind Mursi. “The capital of the Islamic caliphate—the capital of the United States of the Arabs—will be Jerusalem, Allah willing,” he yelled. “Our capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing!”
He then led the throng in an ominous chant, “Millions of martyrs to march toward Jerusalem, millions of martyrs to march toward Jerusalem, millions of martyrs to march toward Jerusalem!” This was followed by a rousing invocation for war with Israel: “Banish the sleep from the eyes of all Jews. Come on, you lovers of martyrdom, you are all Hamas. Forget about the whole world, forget about all the conferences. Brandish your weapons … say your prayers .…”
For those still unclear about what a Mursi presidency would mean for Israel, Higazi spelled it out in his conclusion: “I say this from the podium … from the heart of Egypt, so that the whole world may hear. We say it loud and clear: Yes, Jerusalem is our goal! We shall pray in Jerusalem, or we shall die as martyrs on its threshold.”
Sadly, when it comes to Egypt’s transformation into a radical Islamist state, the world will go on ignoring reality. In fact, Muhammad Mursi is considered a moderate among the presidential candidates. And he was embraced by U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, during his visit to Cairo earlier this month.
Even if Mursi isn’t elected, the other, more liberal candidates are no less worrying. In a marathon four-hour television debate last Thursday, the two leading presidential candidates, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and former MB member Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, spent the evening lobbing stinging insults at the other, distancing themselves from the Mubarak regime and cozying up to the Islamist vote. At one point, Fotouh said he would implement sharia law. These “moderate” candidates agreed on one issue, however: Both labeled Israel an enemy state. Both pledged support of Hamas in Gaza, and the Palestinian cause in general. And both promised, if elected, to revisit and rewrite the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
The common ground between Egypt’s three presidential candidates is a hatred for Israel.
You watch. The moment any of these candidates is elected, politics in Egypt will quickly catch up with the reality on the ground. The Sinai Peninsula is already lawless territory increasingly riddled with weapons smugglers and Islamist terrorist groups, including al Qaeda. Egypt is already increasing its support of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups. In other words, the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty is already dead. No matter which candidate is elected, preventing Egypt’s Islamists from marching on Jerusalem is impossible.
No matter how you look at it, war is coming to Israel. Not because Israel is motivating Islamists by treating the Palestinians unfairly, as many like to believe. And not because Israel is starving Gazans, which it’s not. And not because Israel recently formed a national unity government, which could mean that it is preparing for conflict.
The reason war is inevitable, perhaps soon, is because millions of radical Islamists—in Iran and Egypt, in Gaza, in the Palestinian territories, and across the planet—live and breathe to conquer Israel and capture Jerusalem!
The bells of war are ringing in Jerusalem. Sadly, too few hear them. ▪