President Biden Has Emboldened Israel's Enemies

Rockets are launched by Palestinian militants into Israel, in Gaza May 10, 2021. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

This week, well over 1,000 rockets have been launched into Israel by Palestinian terrorists operating out of Gaza. The rockets have been aimed at schools, at Israeli civilians in the highly populated Tel Aviv area, and — in a major escalation — at Ben Gurion Airport, which connects Israel with the outside world.

Due to the incredible performance of its Iron Dome missile-defense system, Israel has been able to minimize its casualties. But because no system is perfect, and with Hamas and Islamic Jihad launching hundreds of missiles simultaneously, some have managed to slip through, doing damage to property and killing several Israelis, including a father and daughter in the city of Lod and a five-year-old boy in Sderot.

Understandably, Israel has responded with air strikes targeting terrorists in Gaza and their infrastructure. Israelis go to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties. They have notified Gazans of impending attacks and have employed the practice of “roof knocking,” whereby they drop nonexplosive devices on buildings to alert residents that it is about to be targeted by an air strike so they have time to vacate. 

The terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad routinely fire and store rockets in civilian areas. This tactic has naturally put more Palestinians in harm’s way. Indeed, this is part of the strategy, as civilian casualties in Gaza help the groups to gain support among the international community, and on the American left.

The latest wave of rocket attacks came after escalating Palestinian riots in Jerusalem, which related to two separate issues, both of which have been completely distorted by the media.

One involves a legal dispute over several properties in Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian tenants with expired leases (or no leases at all) have been living. Israel’s lower court has ruled that Jewish owners had valid title to these properties, in which Jews lived prior to being driven out by Jordan during the 1948 war. The dispute, which is set to go before Israel’s supreme court, was one trigger for recent rioting by Palestinians.

The other trigger was COVID-19 restrictions that prohibited Muslims from visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during Ramadan. When the restrictions were announced, the Jordanian Muslim council overseeing the Islamic sites said the move was “painful” but that it was “in line with legal fatwas and medical advice.” The clerics advised that Muslims should “perform prayers in their homes during the month of Ramadan, to preserve their safety.” One could argue about whether COVID-19 considerations should be put aside in this case, but they are consistent with many restrictions that people throughout the world have had to put up with over the course of the pandemic.

Yet this issue combined with the Sheikh Jarrah dispute and led to massive rioting around Jerusalem, with Palestinians throwing rocks and launching fireworks at Jews praying at the Western Wall. Al Aqsa itself ended up being used not for praying, but as a storage depot for other rocks and weapons to be used in clashes with Israeli police.

Hamas, publicly egged on by its sponsor Iran (including on Twitter), decided to exploit this opportunity to begin its barrage of rocket attacks.

It is worth noting that while these may have been the triggers of the most recent wave of violence, they do not explain everything. At any given time, there are always incidents that Iranian-backed Palestinian terrorists could use as an excuse to launch missiles at Israel. Why has this resulted in the most ferocious barrage since 2014?

One good guess is the occupant in the White House. 

For four years, Israel had a reliable ally in the White House. Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, made it clear that the U.S. supported Israel’s right to self-defense, and cut aid to the Palestinians that has been traditionally used to incite terrorism. He also recognized that Iran was a significant threat, and ratcheted up sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign. While Democrats howled that these actions would set the region in flames, it actually led to historic peace deals between Israel and Arab states.

Biden has sent the actual opposite signals. He restored the incitement money to the Palestinians to signal closer ties and at the same time has shown a desperation to return to the disastrous Iran deal. His administration has signaled a willingness to even lift sanctions aimed at its sponsorship of terrorism.

Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that Palestinians have felt emboldened to step up attacks against Israel, and that Iran has been so ready to call on its proxies to carry out these attacks. During the Obama administration, the race to sign on to a nuclear deal meant that the U.S. ignored Iran’s malign influence on the rest of the region, and the terrorist regime has every reason to believe that the same would be the case with Biden.

For days, as violence escalated, Biden hid behind lazy both-sides language in statements conveyed through his press team before finally acknowledging in person on Wednesday afternoon, in response to a reporter’s question, that “Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.” This was a welcome development, but if Biden seeks to change the dynamic in the Middle East, he needs to more emphatically convey to Iran and its terrorist proxies that they will get nowhere through targeting innocent civilians.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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