The Ground Shifts in the Middle East

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The U.S. faces a rapidly changing region from Tripoli to Jerusalem

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Israeli Defense Minister Barak visits Israeli officers at rocket shield battery in Ashkelon / Reuters

How quickly the ground has shifted in the Middle East. The apparent fall of Tripoli suggests that the Gaddafi regime will not last long, and this must send shivers down the spine of the cousins who run the Assad mafia in Damascus. For once Gaddafi is gone all attention will turn to the remaining Arab despotism, and the opposition to Assad will grow in energy and confidence. Now is the time to turn up the pressure and make Assad fall sooner rather than later, for every additional week means scores more Syrians murdered in the streets of the country. Then attention will have to turn to the next act: the one in which we see, in Tunisia and Egypt, in Libya and Syria, if decent, stable, democratic governments can be built. It now looks as if the Arab Spring was the lead-in to a hot summer for the remaining tyrants. The issue we all face for the winter is what the United States can do to help avoid chaos or repression in those countries as they seek to build new political systems.

Meanwhile it is becoming a hot summer for Israel as well. The economic and social protests of the last month in that country have been pushed aside by a new conflict with Hamas. The largest terrorist attack in months took place last week near Eilat, killing seven and wounded twenty-five. That attack appears to have emerged from Sinai, which is fast coming loose from Egyptian control and falling under that of Bedouin criminal gangs and Palestinian terrorists. Whether the Egyptian military has the power and strength to re-assert control of Sinai seems to me very doubtful, which means Israel will have to build a security fence there much like the one it has built to stop Palestinian terrorism from the West Bank.

Moreover, since "Operation Cast Lead" in late 2008 and early 2009 Hamas has limited attacks on Israel by its own forces and rival gangs in Gaza. No more; now Hamas and its partners have announced the truce is over and sent dozens of rockets into Israel in the last few days.

All of that puts the PLO claim that it is ready for statehood in a different light, for it reminds us that Ramallah has no control over events in Gaza--even including making war on Israel, which these rocket and mortar attacks clearly are. It renders any U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood even more obviously unreal and unhelpful, for the greater problem Palestinians suffer is that half their populace is under the domination of an Islamic terrorist group.

It also shows how foolish has been recent U.S. and EU policy, constantly criticizing Israel whenever a plan to build a new apartment house is announced. The Quartet has turned itself into a real estate monitor, doing nothing to address and help solve far more real and more complex problems for Israelis and Palestinians both. The beginning of a more practical and useful approach would be complete solidarity with Israel now as it faces these acts of war, and responds to them to protect its population. Punishing and deterring Hamas is essential now, if calm is to be restored. Once upon a time the British, at least, understood how one deals with aggression; and so did we. It would be nice to see Secretary Clinton and Lady Ashton sounding a bit more like Mrs. Thatcher these days. And might the President interrupt his vacation long enough to make a strong statement, on camera, expressing real solidarity with the people of Israel in the face of the threats and attacks they are suffering each day?


This article originally appeared at CFR.org

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Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Formerly deputy national security adviser on Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush administration, Abrams was also an assistant secretary of state for UN affairs, human rights, and Latin America in the Reagan administration. Abrams blogs at Pressure Points.

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