The arrow that has left the bow never returns. We should keep the Iranian proverb firmly in mind when we hear, as we do now, that some kind of dialogue is opening up between the Obama administration and Iran.
The Iranian arrow is in flight, directed at secular Israel through its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, in the common aim of jihad. But the Middle East conflict is no longer one just between Israelis and Palestinians. Iran is at the core of a wider, unfolding struggle between radical Islamists and moderate national entities. Today, most Sunni Arab governments, including those of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and even Fatah—although not Syria and Qatar—are far more worried about Iranian regional dominance than they are about Israel. They know that Israel is not going to undermine or overthrow them, while radical, Iranian-sponsored Islamists just might.
The arrows literally are in flight from Gaza—rockets fired by militants on an almost daily basis, violating the informal truce even as Israel and Hamas are supposed to be seeking a longer-term cease-fire. Where are the protests? Where are the pious street marchers in Europe? In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza at a cost of $2 billion and the forcible removal of some 8,000 people who had lived there all of their lives, all in the hopes of reigniting the peace process. The result was a rainfall of 8,000 rockets, missiles, and mortar rounds on civilians in towns within Israel proper.
The Palestinian Authority, then in control, had a chance to start building the infrastructure of a long-awaited state. It did not. Instead, Gaza became the base for a radical Islamist organization, spawning two separate and rival Palestinian entities and creating another huge barrier to the solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Hamas is radicalizing Fatah. Even Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas will not compromise on the right of return, the so far nonnegotiable demand that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants from the 1948 war be allowed to settle in Israel. The insistence on the right of return would result in having millions of Palestinians on the Israeli side of the divide. The Israelis know that Israel would then become a country with an Arab majority and that Hamas could take over, thus ending Israeli hopes for a two-state solution.
Given the threat from Hamas, which has stated and restated that the Palestinians will continue their jihad until the face of the Zionist state disappears, who can think that Israel would get peace in return for yielding land? Israel's abandonment of Gaza was wholly voluntary, a gesture for peace, but Hamas and many Palestinians chose to see it as a sign of weakness. Withdrawal from the West Bank, once negotiable, now seems to many Israelis to make Israel more vulnerable to yet another generation of Palestinians promising to push the Jews into the sea.
An increasing number of Israelis believe that as long as Iran and its proxies are armed and ready to fight, no number of uprooted Jewish settlements will bring peace. A repetition of Gaza by withdrawals from the West Bank would leave Israel dangerously vulnerable. The whole country would turn into one big Sderot, a community turned into a virtual ghost town because of the terror of daily rocket fire. Fewer and fewer believe that any two-state solution will end the conflict. Many Israelis have become convinced that the real obstacle remains Iranian hostility, reflected in the enmity of proxies—Hamas and Hezbollah—that reject the very existence of the Jewish state, no matter what its borders.
Tehran saw the war in Gaza as the strategic dimension of the Iranian-Israeli-American struggle. For Iran, Gaza is a critical stronghold. The signals from Tehran to Hamas in Gaza were "Do not surrender," "Continue your struggle," "We will replenish your supplies"—just as the Iranians returned their other proxy, Hezbollah, to its previous strength and even doubled it within a short time after the war in Lebanon. Tehran is prepared to resupply Hamas so that it can, once again, fire missiles at Israeli towns and settlements, perhaps even as far away as Tel Aviv. That is why Israel feels it is so critical to halt the weapons smuggling into Gaza. It comes through a network organized by Iran's Revolutionary Guards that passes through Somalia, Sudan, the Red Sea, and the Nile to the Bedouin tribes in Sinai who, through bribery, have neutralized the ability of Egyptian security forces to halt the activity.