Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Lots of News from the Middle East

When it comes to the Middle East, the last few days have witnessed some pretty big developments. Here are the four that have, or could have, a direct impact on American politics:

  1. Trouble in the Knesset: Two key members of the Israeli government have taken PM Benjamin Netanyahu to task in the past week. The first is Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who says that Netanyahu's lack of strategic vision is leading Israel on the path to disaster. The second, and more recent, is National Unity party leader Benny Gantz, who went further, and on Saturday night announced six goals that Netanyahu must embrace, or else Gantz and his seven fellow National Unity colleagues in the Knesset will leave the governing coalition.

    Some of the six goals are pretty weedy, but the two that matter for purposes of this discussion are #3, which is to "create an international civilian governance mechanism for Gaza" and #5, which is to "advance normalization with Saudi Arabia." Those actually go hand-in-hand, as Saudi Arabia has made clear it won't normalize relations without some movement towards Palestinian statehood. And there's no way Netanyahu is going to do that, first because he doesn't believe in it, and second because his far-right Knesset colleagues would jump ship and his government would collapse.

    So, Gantz isn't going to get what he has demanded. Will he follow through on his threat? He certainly could, but it would be counterproductive, at least in the short term. It takes 61 seats to control the Knesset, and without Gantz and his colleagues, Netanyahu would still have 64—all of them representing far-right parties. Netanyahu has already been kowtowing to the right-wingers, since the PM is himself right-wing, and since 64 is eight times as many as 8. But if Gantz and his non-right-wing colleagues leave the governing coalition, then there will be nobody pushing back against the PM. And without further defections, Gantz & Co. just don't have the numbers to cause the Netanyahu ministry to fall.

    Anyhow, this speaks to how many moving parts there are when it comes to Israel and Gaza, and why it's nearly impossible for outsiders, including U.S. presidents, to move things in a peaceful/permanent direction.

  2. Not That Biden Isn't Trying: This story has gotten relatively little coverage compared to the other items on this list, which certainly doesn't argue against the notion that the media has adopted a "today's bad news for Joe" narrative. In any case, NSA Jake Sullivan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had a long talk over the weekend, with an eye toward establishing a security agreement between the two countries. Reportedly, great progress was made. They also discussed Saudi recognition of Israel, which would be a big deal, but as we note above, is predicated on some version of a two-state solution. That will not be happening under the current Israeli regime.

    The people who govern Saudi Arabia are, on the whole, bad guys. But in some parts of the world, perhaps many, you don't get to choose between "good guys" and "bad guys." No, you get to pick your poison between one set of bad guys and a different set of bad guys. And the fact is that Saudi Arabia is the biggest and richest country in the Middle East. If the international community, and if the key players in the Middle East, make clear that Palestinian statehood is not optional, that can and will eventually put enormous pressure on the Israeli government. That said, keep reading...

  3. Yahya Sinwar and Benjamin Netanyahu... War Criminals?: The headlines for this news story, which broke yesterday, may give the wrong impression. Prosecutors for the International Criminal Court have requested that arrest warrants be issued against Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and Benjamin Netanyahu for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    Note, first of all, that no warrants have yet been issued (some headlines suggest otherwise). Prosecutors can ask for whatever they want, but it's up to the judges of the ICC to actually grant (or deny) the request. On top of that, it's all symbolic anyhow, since the ICC is not in a position to arrest either man and drag him back to The Hague for a trial.

    We will also point out that you can see the dilemma that the ICC was in. Sinwar is a legally elected leader of a group that has held onto power extralegally, and he bears responsibility for violent acts against noncombatants. Netanyahu is a legally elected leader of a democratic government, but he has personally held onto power while bending the law to its breaking point, and he too bears responsibility for violent acts against noncombatants. On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is "pure as the driven snow" and 10 is "the heart of darkness," Sinwar surely gets a considerably higher number than Netanyahu. But indictments are not a 1-10 scale, they are binary. That is to say, you can have a zero, or you can have a one. And you can argue that assigning both men a one is a fairer representation of reality than giving Sinwar a one and Netanyahu a zero.

    In any case, even if the ICC prosecutors' move is only tentative, and will never have any real teeth, and is potentially justifiable, it was nonetheless counterproductive. Because the most concrete impact it will have is to rally the Israeli people around their leader, and to insulate him, at least for a while, from the pressure being put upon him by the U.S., the Saudis, Benny Gantz, Yoav Gallant, etc.

    Certainly, the ICC's maneuvering had the effect of rallying support for Israel in the United States. Congressional Republicans are fuming, and are talking about yanking all U.S. funding for the ICC. Joe Biden issued a statement that reads:
    The ICC prosecutor's application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous. And let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence—none—between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.
    We understand the ICC wanted to make a statement, but maybe they would have been better off saying and doing nothing.

  4. Over in Iran: Finally, and as most readers have probably heard by now, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash on Sunday. He was definitely not a nice guy, but was the second-highest-ranking person in Iran, and was in line to move up to the big chair (Supreme Leader) once the 85-year-old Ali Khamenei shuffles off this mortal coil.

    You can never be sure how instability in Iran might reverberate internationally. Surely, it depends a lot on the person who assumes Raisi's place in the pecking order. However, there is one immediate concern. It is all but certain that, to the extent that any nation is to be blamed here, it is Iran, since the helicopter was old and since the crash was apparently due to pilot error. However, Iran does not like to accept blame for things. So, the White House is concerned that the Iranians might try to blame Israel or the U.S., which in turn could lead to a "response" of some sort. One can only hope the administration's concerns do not come to pass.

And that's the latest from everyone's favorite corner of the globe. (Z)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates