When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that territory Israel might withdraw from would be taken over by militant Islam and assured Israeli voters in early 2015 that a Palestinian state would not be established under his leadership, the Obama administration responded, as expected, with another barrage of verbal assaults on Israel for undermining the “two-state solution.”
Those attacks included a threat to “reassess” US “options.” That vague statement was actually a reference to the crisis in US-Israel relations three decades ago when president Gerald Ford said there would be a “reassessment” of the US relationship with Israel.
A massacre in Paris and the downing of a Russian passenger jet in the Sinai later, Netanyahu’s warnings about militant Islam in early 2015 and over the years might be haunting the US president who dedicated so much energy to pressuring Israel on Palestinian statehood while doing little to prevent that “J.V. team” now known as Islamic State (ISIS) from becoming one of the greatest threats to Middle East stability and to civilization at large.
Islamic State rose in the power vacuum created by the smashing of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria. According to one estimate, it has up to 200,000 fighters and is said to earn millions of dollars a week from oil, ransoms, taxes and other means. Its arsenal includes helicopters, MiG jets, tanks, APCs, military trucks and Humvees, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers, machine guns and more.
Even Israel, said to have the only military force ISIS fears, has come under threat from ISIS.
The shooting on New Year’s Eve in Tel Aviv by an Israeli Arab seems to have been as much an ISIS-inspired attack as those in San Bernardino or Paris.
On the same day as the shooting in Tel Aviv, an ISIS-affiliated group also fired rockets into Israel from Gaza, which was not a first for that group. The ISIS-affiliate “Sinai Province” has also fired rockets at Israel from Egyptian territory.
Earlier in December, the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) revealed that it had arrested five Israeli Arabs in Nazareth on charges of setting up an ISIS cell.
The group allegedly swore allegiance to ISIS, met and watched ISIS videos and obtained weapons to use in attacks.
At the start of 2015, Israel arrested seven Israeli-Arab suspects for setting up an ISIS cell in Israel and said the group was communicating with ISIS in Syria and was planning attacks in Israel.
Other Arab Israelis have been arrested and charged with attempting to join ISIS in Syria.
In 2014, Channel 10 reported that ISIS’s black flags were spotted in Arab-Israeli towns, including in Nazareth and Acre, that Israeli Arab youths were posting pictures of themselves with IS flags on Facebook, and that an ISIS-supporting group rallied at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem with ISIS flags.
Even the ongoing wave of stabbings – one of the most primitive but perhaps most consciously vicious forms of Palestinian terrorism – and the Palestinian propaganda behind them, have no doubt drawn some inspiration from ISIS, if only because it has set a new bar for horror.
And more disturbing than any single incident: a recent survey found that 17 percent of Israeli Arabs (representing approximately 300,000 Israeli citizens) do not see ISIS as an extremist organization.
But Netanyahu was not only referring to Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. He was also concerned with the de-facto Islamic state in Gaza known as Hamas, the Islamic “state within a state” in Lebanon known as Hezbollah, as well as Hezbollah’s backer, an actual Islamic state, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Recall that Hamas took over Gaza in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal in 2005, a fact which Netanyahu has cited in the past.
Hamas calls for the establishment of an Islamic state in “Palestine” and, like ISIS, engages in the Islamicization of the population it rules. Though Hamas denies it, there have also been a number of reports of Hamas coordination with the Sinai Province of ISIS.
Hamas is estimated to have about 15,000 fighters. It has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against Israelis both before and after the Gaza withdrawal, and also for mass rocketing Israeli cities. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reported that 80% of Hamas’ rocket arsenal was destroyed at the end of Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, but Hamas still has thousands of rockets, putting almost all of Israel in range. Though smaller than ISIS, Hamas’ strength (relative to its territory) and popularity are sufficient to deter Israeli attempts to destroy it. Hamas also asserts itself in Judea (West Bank), the territory the international community demands that Israel cede to a prospective Palestinian state. At least 10 Hamas cells in Palestinian areas have been arrested there since November 2014, including a 24-member cell in November 2015, and most recently a cell planning suicide bombings in Israel.
Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, is called “the fortress of Hamas.” A recent Palestinian survey found that if elections were held today, Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh would beat Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by a margin of 10%.
Hezbollah also calls for an Islamic state and strives to Islamicize Lebanon. Hezbollah is estimated to have an arsenal of 150,000 rockets and a fighting strength of 20-30,000. Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz opined in July 2014 that Hezbollah had one of the world’s most powerful armies. It has perpetrated terrorist attacks around the world, penetrated Israeli territory on a number of occasions and has also mass-rocketed Israel. Most recently Hezbollah exploded a large bomb in Israeli territory which luckily caused no casualties. It is also working with its patron Iran to save their ally Bashar Assad in Syria and to establish yet another radical Islamic front against Israel.
Even if ISIS is ultimately defeated in Syria and Iraq, the threat posed by Iran, Hezbollah and their on-and-off again ally Hamas, as well as the Sinai Province, will remain.
Those threats are likely to grow as Iran rejoins the international community and puts to use funds released as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on its nuclear program. Especially because restrictions on uranium enrichment in the nuclear accord end after 15 years, Iran seems all but guaranteed to achieve nuclear weapons capability, covertly or openly, in the coming decade or two. If it does, a nuclear umbrella would be extended to militant Islam in Israel and around the world.
We in Israel were not impressed by the leader of ISIS’s threat to turn Palestine into our graveyard. (Where else should we die but in our homeland?) But in the era of the radical Islamic states, all of which seek to turn Palestine into a graveyard, we cannot give them the chance by withdrawing from the West Bank as we did in Gaza to create a Palestinian state that would fast become the world’s next radical Islamic state, in the heart of Judea.
As for the rest of the world, instead of deriding Netanyahu and the Israeli government for resisting international pressure to establish such a state, they ought to be thanking Netanyahu and Israel, for being the line in the Middle East sand that the Islamic states cannot cross.
The writer is an attorney and a Likud Central Committee member.