Middle East tensions are heating up again as Israel mounts a military response to nearly 200 Hamas rockets fired into the Jewish state, but a Reagan-era Pentagon official says the real headline here is that the benefactors of Hamas are rattled.
“I think it’s because its patron, Iran, is in trouble. The Iranians are making a concerted effort, I think, to attack Israel while they can,” said Center for Security Policy President Frank Gaffney, who served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
“The regime, the mullah-ocracy if you will, is increasingly facing pressure from its own people, among others things, to stop supporting Hamas and for that matter Bashar Assad in Syria and Hezbollah,” added Gaffney.
Instability has arisen in Iran before, most notably in the 2009 Green Revolution against the mullahs and then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after clearly rigged elections.
But Gaffney says the current protests are unlike anything seen before.
“What seems to be different about what’s happening now is that it’s not just certain strata of society that are opposing the government in a visible, public way, as was true in the Green Revolution.
“You have masses of people from across the demographic, political, economic spectrum, many of whom are facing the fact that there’s no longer any water for them to drink. There’s no employment opportunities. They’re fleeing their cities and towns and going elsewhere in search of basic necessities,” said Gaffney.
The Israeli military has already carried out airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza after 180 rockets were fired into Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ordering “strong action” in retaliation as well.
Listen to the interview:
Gaffney says it’s a complicated issue for Israel. On the one hand, Netanyahu cannot allow his country to be attacked without a fierce response. At the same time, Hamas consistently embeds its military elements in civilian locations like hospitals and daycare centers. When Israel attacks the military assets, Hamas and much of the world inevitably accuse it of carrying out human rights atrocities.
But Gaffney says both sides need to walk a diplomatic tightrope.
“The folks in Hamas understand that Israel can do very considerable harm to their infrastructure and operations,” he explained. “On the other hand Israelis understand almost anything they do is going to be met with intense criticism by countries elsewhere.”
The U.S. will be one of the few nations to defend Israel at the United Nations and elsewhere. But Gaffney says President Trump can achieve greater stability in the Middle East by choking the economic life out of Iran and all of its proxies in the region.
Specifically, he implores Trump to keep up pressure through economic sanctions. Earlier this week, the U.S. reimposed sanctions on items ranging from carpets to gold and from pistachios to automobiles and aircraft. Another round of sanctions are scheduled for early November, which will target Iran banks and the oil industry.
“This is a moment when economic warfare against the regime and making very clear our desire to help the Iranian people and stand with them will have a very salutary effect,” said Gaffney.