By | Rachel Brooks
May 13, 2021
With the terrorist movement Hamas launching major missile attacks against Israel beginning on May 10, 2021, Republic Underground sought the opinion of some of the world’s leading Middle East experts on the conflict and its ramifications. In this third in a series of these interviews, Republic Underground managing editor Rachel Brooks spoke on May 13 with Scott Edelman, a retired U.S. diplomat with extensive experience in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East, been present for military joint counsels with the United States and Israel, and has first-hand experience with the development of foreign policy.
The war continued to ravage Israel on May 13. As of approximately 10 pm Israel time, Hamas fired 90 more rockets into Israel, in a continued maximum-hit campaign.
Scott Edelman interview
Question: What, in your opinion, will the ramifications be of Biden’s incoherent Israel policy? Do you believe the Abraham Accords can hold up under the pressure of this recent Hamas incursion?
Edelman: “I’d say, probably by nature, I’m an optimist.”
Edelman gave insightful background into the history of the Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. Despite the fact that Israel was engaged in conflict with Lebanon shortly after the Camp David agreement was signed, the peace still held. Edelman noted that while the flare up in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was a deteriment to the progress, it was not an immediate sign for alarm about its ability to hold.
First, Edelman noted that the Arab states are more open to the terms of normalization than in the past. Second, Israel has also been increasing its ties with other western countries, and while these nations were not as instrumental as American diplomay in pushing peace progress, they did have an influence.
“Each signatory nation has a lot of offer the other and they know it,” said Edelman.
He noted that the situation on the ground had changed since his experience in diplomacy during the Cold War. The Arab states have friendlier outlook toward Israelis than they did before. The Abraham Accords opened a door that allowed the Arab states to realize how much potential the nations had for cooperation. He noted that even though the Arab states were constrained to “mouth the words” of support for the cause of the Palestinians, they would ultimately be understanding of Israel’s stance and would quietly acknowledge the nation’s right to self-defense.
“The Trump administration pulled out all the stops on pushing the Abraham Accords. The region needed a little push and continues to need an American push,” said Edelman.
While some had their skepticism regarding Jared Kushner’s appointment to the special envoy in the Israel issue, Edelman saw this as an icebreaker step on the part of the Trump administration. He called to mind the fact that Arab culture is highly family-oriented. Therefore, when Donald Trump sent his son-in-law to negotiate his administration’s Middle East diplomatic vision, it sent the correct cultural message to get its point across. Likewise, Edelman noted that, while Jared Kushner was not an expert going into his role as a special envoy, he was when he completed the task.
“He really did his homework,” said Edelman.
Question: The Biden administration do not appear to be prioritizing progress on the Abraham Accords and normalization between the Gulf Arab communities and the Israeli state. But does this lack of apparent priority go so far as self-sabotage of Middle East peace diplomacy?
Edelman: There is a real learning-curve here. This is a very slow and painful learning process, and even experienced administrations have many learning curves.
Having said this, Edelman noted that during the Obama administration, and now during the Biden administration, the same players who were present for both administrations have shown fixed ideas regarding the Middle East that have protracted the process of learning-curves. The Biden administration is repeating the mistakes of the Obama administration by failing to listen to the ideals of the people on the ground in the Gulf region, rather than pursue these fixed ideas.
He noted that Israel has been placed in such a position where it must create a new status with Hamas forces where there will be significant cost to Hamas for continuing its incursion. This is the reason for on-the-ground tactics. He noted that one specific strategy that could be used to Israel’s advantage is taking back parcels of uninhabited desert in the Gaza territory as a symbolic gesture of presence immediately within the Palestinian Authority. Israel must defend a new status quo with Hamas but cannot completely disband the Hamas because to do so would be to fully occupy Gaza. This is a political move that Israel cannot make and requires advanced diplomacy.
As for the Gaza region, Edelman noted that it had become “Hell’s Riviera” in terms of infrastructural deterioration, lack of economic opportunity, and environmental health. The continued conflict between Israel and the Hamas prolongs any proactive development to this region.
“The Hamas has a far-more effective missile system than the Iron Dome. It’s called ‘don’t shoot missiles at Israel.’,” said Edelman.
Edelman noted an “incredibly strong ethos” in the Israeli Defense Forces priorities for preserving human life. He was present for numerous conferences between the U.S. forces, various Arab states, and Israeli forces during his career, and noted that, the U.S. forces and the Israeli forces, in his experience, saw eye-to-eye completely on a strong ethos of limiting the possibility of civilian casualties as much as was possible. While the western critics of the Israeli defense against the Hamas incursion argue that the Iron Dome is a superior weapon system to the Hamas’ rocket system, therefore making engagement unfair, Edelman noted that there was simplistic solution to Hamas’ moral dilemma. That was to simply stop attacking Israel and its civilian life. From this experience, due to the fact that Israel’s defense is composed of citizen forces, Israeli units typically must be provoked before retaliation.