Skip to main content

The Middle East Situation is All Question Marks

Even after a week, the obscene Hamas attacks on Israel have lacked for a coherent narrative. 

I tried to construct one, and gave up in frustration. There are simply too many threads to follow, and each thread ends in a question mark.

As I tend to follow the threads less travelled, here are some of the questions I’ve been asking, not that I expect any real answers:

Were Russia and Iran just as Surprised as Israel?

When news of these attacks first broke, it was widely assumed that both Iran and Russia were key figures, lurking in the background, pulling the strings. Iran had supplied Hamas with missiles. Russia had repeatedly hosted Hamas leaders in Moscow. All this was suggestive of multi-dimensional chess being played by the big boys in the region.

But not so fast. More recent reports, citing U.S. intelligence sources, have revealed that they don’t think Iran knew anything about Hamas’ plans. Or at least they were taken aback by the news.

Then Mark Galeotti — a go-to Russia specialist, whose sources go deep into the Kremlin — declared, quite convincingly, that Putin was also gobsmacked by the attacks, to the point of paralysis. Apparently, Russian intelligence has as much egg on its face as the Israelis.

The official Russian reaction to the war so far has been low-key, incoherent, and befuddled. They’re busy with their own atrocities, and don’t have time for other peoples.’

But both Russia and Iran have a history of placing serious firepower in the hands of marginal actors without thinking through the consequences. What could go wrong?

Can the Bromance Between Bibi and Vlad Survive?

Israel and Russia have been flirting with each other for decades, which was only natural. With all the Russians in Israel and all the Jews in Russia, the commercial and cultural ties run especially deep.

In this century, Putin and Netanyahu have developed a wary bromance. Each claims to like the other, which seems unlikely. But even so, they’re about as close as Israel’s commitments to the United States can allow for. Which is to say, not very.

But you could look at Israel as a sort of Putin-ish success story, seeing as how Bibi continues to molest his own constitution in a power grab seemingly designed to shield him from multiple prosecutions. Trump can only look on in envy.

But Bibi’s fascist proclivities aside, the bromance has always been shaky. Beyond the problematic ties to America, there have long been plenty of Russian emigrés in Israel, many with bad memories of the motherland, and bad things to say about Putin.

And that was before the invasion of Ukraine, which did not go unnoticed in Israel, and which Bibi has tried to stay out of. Israel has conspicuously not sanctioned Russia, nor have they sent aid or weaponry to Ukraine. They’ve walked a tightrope that has left both Russia and Ukraine equally angry at them.

And now, with Hamas making Bibi look foolish — and with most of the world’s fingers pointing at Putin — I’m guessing the bromance is just about over.

Is this Really what Iran had in Mind?

The government of Iran is deeply committed to eradicating Israel, but they probably didn’t have this week in mind.

They already have quite enough on their plate, attending to the ongoing brutal suppression of all internal dissent in the name of a sclerotic theocracy nobody likes. Again.

They’d just recently reached a deal with the U.S. and Qatar to conditionally release $6 billion in funds that had been frozen in the U.S. banking system. The new war will surely tank that deal, and the $6 billion will apparently be re-frozen.

Which means the Hamas attacks are costing Iran $6 billion right off the top. And that’s unrelated to the substantial investment they’ve made in Hamas over the years, providing arms, training, and financing with few, if any, strings attached.

And this is the thanks they get. If the reporting is to be believed, Iran wasn’t consulted about the attacks — which they surely would have discouraged — and they were caught totally off guard by them.

In other words, Iran built a very expensive killing machine, and were surprised when it started killing people.

What Does Iran Get for its Investment in Hamas?

Hamas offers all the brutality of ISIS, but with better branding. A pumped-up terrorist cell — widely hated even by its own people — Hamas is nonetheless bringing a new level of media savvy and video sophistication to what we might want to call the New Barbarity.

This will be barbarity with production values. All indications are that Hamas has a video workflow up and running, prepared to accommodate any new footage as it happens. The graphics, music, and voiceover talent are ready to go. They can edit and re-edit depending on the communication strategy, and they’ll be pumping out a steady stream of barbarities through Telegram, all of which will go viral immediately.

If, as they’ve promised, Hamas actually goes ahead with televised executions of Israeli hostages, we can expect them to be slick productions, with hooded executioners performing unspeakable atrocities to a live audience.

The Enemy of My Enemy is My What Again?

Some of the world’s most influential authoritarian regimes are having a hard time distinguishing their friends from their enemies.

Israel and Russia have both been flirting with Mohamed Bin-Salman of Saudi Arabia, each for their own reasons, each with some recent success. Unfortunately, MBS doesn’t like how Russia has been cozying up to Iran. Neither does Israel.

But Russia, you might notice, is not having a good year. Bogged down in Ukraine, seemingly forever, they really need Iran. Mostly because there aren’t that many robust nation-states willing to do business with either of them.

The Saudis would probably do more business with Russia — MBS couldn’t care less about Ukraine — but they’re constrained by their hatred for Iran, by their close-but-rickety relationship with the United States, and by Russia’s pariah status in the rest of the world. And now, this Hamas thing means that any deal they had in mind with Israel is surely off the table.

It’s said that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but that’s only when you can keep straight which is which.

The Hamas conflict is unleashing a world of unintended consequences. Its ripple effects have strained alliances, exposed national weaknesses, created strange bedfellows galore, and added enormous pressure to an already-stressed-out planet.

And that was just last week.




  1. The best explanation I've heard is that Hamas is responding to the thawing of relationships with various Arab states and Israel. If Israel has too many allies in the Middle East, Hamas loses their already limited support. Their hope was that Israel would overreact an force said Arab states to pull back on those burgeoning relationships. As usual, it seems their plan backfired spectacularly.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

France and Britain Just Gave the Finger to Fascism

There is now ample evidence that people with democratic systems of government actually like them, and would just as soon keep them, flaws and all. There seems to be a strong backlash occurring in several European countries, a trend toward shoring up democracies threatened by toxic authoritarian forces. In Poland last year, then in France and Britain last week, actual voters — as opposed to deeply compromised opinion polls — gave a big middle finger to the fascists in their midst. I don’t pretend to understand the electoral systems of these countries — let alone their political currents — but I’m struck by the apparent connections between different elections in different countries, and what they might be saying to us. I’ve spoken before of Poland , where ten years of vicious minority rule was overturned at the ballot box. A ban on abortion was the galvanizing issue — sound familiar? — and it brought an overwhelming number of voters to the polls, many for the fir

Are America’s B.S. Detectors Finally Getting an Upgrade?

  Can a person acquire an immunity to propaganda? I’ve been wondering. It was Julia Ioffe who got me started. She wrote last week of the dwindling effectiveness of the Russian disinformation industry. She reports that the bot-farms that caused all the mischief in 2016 are now a shadow of their former selves. Ever since their founder and leader, Evgeny Prigozhin , was blown out of the sky last year, they’ve come under the control of Putin’s office, which means poor performance is now institutionalized. This can be seen in the messaging being disseminated by these so-called influence campaigns, which is almost comically inept. The content is focused exclusively on undermining support for Ukraine, a subject that couldn’t be less relevant to most Americans. Anyone who actually cares about Ukraine will just laugh at the fumbling English and feeble logic of the posts they’re seeing. But what really got me thinking was Ioffe’s assertion that these campaigns are old

Democrats, Step Away from the Ledge

  Anxiety comes easily to Democrats. We’re highly practiced at perceiving a crisis, wanting to fix it immediately, and being consistently frustrated when we can’t. Democrats understand consequences, which is why we always have plenty to worry about. Republicans don’t give a rat’s ass about consequences — which is, let’s face it, their superpower. I wasn’t intending to write about last Thursday’s debate, mostly because I post on Tuesdays, and this could be old news by the time it gets to you. But then the New York Times weighed in with a wildly disingenuous editorial calling for Joe Biden to drop out of the race, and the rest of the mainstream media piled on. In the Times' not-so-humble opinion, Biden needs to consider “the good of the country,” something their own paper has repeatedly failed to do for almost a decade. And since this is now the crisis du jour for virtually every Democrat who watched that shitshow, I thought I might at l