While different in many ways, the two most active Middle East conflicts, waged by the US in northern Iraq against the Islamic State, and by Israel against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, have strong common features:
1. Both stood idly by for years as Islamist fundamentalists, Al Qaeda’s IS in Iraq, and the Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip, systematically built up military force for bringing forward their aggressive designs.
The Obama administration shrugged when al Qaeda started forging ahead, first in Syria and then in Iraq.
But for occasional air strikes against “empty sands” in Gaza, Binyamin Netanyahu’s government neglected to step in when Hamas built up a vast stockpile of rockets and an underground terror empire, as former AMAN director Amos Yadlin admitted publicly last week.
When, in mid-2013, IS commander Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi executed a major tactical move by relocating his entire force from Syria to Iraq, Washington was unmoved – even when in Jan. 2014, the Islamists took over the unresisting western Iraqi province of Anbar and a row of important towns, including Falluja and Tikrit.
The Iraqi army’s armored divisions, rather than resist the ruthless Islamists sweeping across the county, turned tail, bequeathing the conquering force the rich spoils of heavy, up-to-date American weaponry in mountainous quantities.
And still President Barack Obama saw no pressing cause to step in – even though, by then, it was obvious that this booty was destined not only for subjugating Baghdad, but being injected into the Syrian war and the IS arsenal in preparation for leaping on its next prey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and at some point, Israel too.
The US president was finally jerked out of his unconcern when the soldiers of Allah started marching toward the gates of Irbil, capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish Republic of Iraq (KRG).
Friday, on Aug.8, a couple of US warplanes and drones went into belated action to curb their advance. According to the Pentagon statement, two FA-18 jets, launched from the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier in the Gulf, dropped 500lb laser-guided bombs on a “mobile artillery piece” that was shelling Kurdish forces defending Irbil, “where US forces are based.”
A little more than one hour later, four F/A-18 aircraft hit a stationary convoy of seven vehicles and a mortar position near Irbil, wiping them out with eight bombs.
Gallons of water and tons of packaged meals were also air-dropped for the hundreds of refugees who had fled towns in northern Iraq that were mowed down by the Islamists, with nothing but the clothes they stood up in.
2. The US appears to be falling into the same error of judgment made by Israel’s war planners in the month-long Operation Defense Edge, i.e., that air strikes are capable of wiping out an Islamist terrorist peril. That lesson was there for Washington to learn in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and latterly Gaza.
3. President Obama refuses to put American boots back in Iraq, specifically, special operations forces, because this would reverse what he considers his crowning foreign achievement, the withdrawal of the US army from Iraq.
For very different reasons, Israeli leaders abstained from sending special forces deep inside the Gaza Strip to eliminate the Hamas high command and main rocket stocks.
Because of these common factors, the two campaigns are destined to share a common outcome: IS will forge ahead in Iraq, and Hamas will continue firing rockets at the Israeli population, to force Jerusalem into submission. Neither conflict looks like ending any time soon.
4. Another less obvious common thread is to be found in Irbil. Two powerful patrons, the US and Israel, were responsible for shaping, training and funding the Peshmerga as the national army of the semiautonomous Kurdish Republic.
Both maintain military and intelligence missions in the KRG capital and may be presumed to be advising Kurdish generals on strategy for rebuffing the advancing Islamists.
Yet this menacing advance continues relentlessly, and the Kurdish army is showing the first signs of fallilng apart in the same way as the Iraqi divisions in earlier rounds of the IS onslaught. The sense of doom in Irbil is such that the US and Israel are preparing to evacuate their personnel.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that US warplanes and drones are the wrong weapons for stopping Al Qaeda’s jihadis, just as Israeli air strikes were never much good against Hamas, and will not stop the war of attrition the Palestinian fundamentalists launched Friday, Aug. 8.
5. Islamist fundamentalists, fighting on separate battlefields 1,327 km apart, have gained the tactical advantage in both over the US and Israeli armies. President Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had better take a hard look at their tactics before it is too late.