The terrorist attacks by Hamas this past weekend were both horrific and historic. October 7, 2023 was the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared that the country is at war and promised to “exact a price that will be remembered by them [Hamas] and Israel’s other enemies for decades to come.” With the current objective to destroy Hamas, this war will likely be long and brutal and may well change again the layout of the Middle East.
The search for answers in the face of such bloodshed is understandable. We want perpetrators to be held accountable and inept leaders replaced. But claims by GOP presidential candidates and other Republicans that President Biden is responsible for this attack are misguided at best. Former president Trump claimed that “Joe Biden’s ineptitude, weakness, and incompetence has led to this horrible attack on Israel.” Chris Christie claimed that “Biden invited this war against Israel.” Nikki Haley made less incendiary accusation of “irresponsibility.” Tim Scott went the farthest, musing that Biden was “complicit” in the attacks.
The argument is that by securing $6 billion dollars for Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages, Biden indirectly (some argue directly) funded the atrocity in Israel. Setting aside that the $6 billion has not been touched, this argument betrays a naiveté about the role of the United States in the Middle East, one which places the United States at the middle of geostrategic developments in the region. The sad truth is that these attacks, likely greenlit by Tehran and Hezbollah, would have happened under any American president. They are the final and desperate attempt by Hamas and its allies to ruin a Saudi-Israeli normalization deal that likely would leave the Palestinians permanently stateless. To the extent that American action is remotely responsible for the massacres, it is that the United States has played an important role in running negotiations with Riyadh and Jerusalem (a role it must continue to play).
Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) has long been rumored to care little for the Palestinian cause and to secretly blame Palestinian leadership for their continued woes. That MBS was not prioritizing Palestinian statehood in the negotiations seemed all but confirmed in a recent interview he gave with Fox News. In the interview, MBS talked about the need to recognize the “reality of Israel” and that negotiations were getting “very close” to a deal. Revealingly he spoke only of the need to “ease the lives of the Palestinians,” loudly omitting any mention of statehood. With Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Arab country, about to turn its back on the Palestinians, Hamas calculated that it had one last chance to push the issue to the forefront of Arab minds and generate public support in the Arab world that would at least delay normalization.
News reports from the Wall Street Journal and the French Figaro claim that officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) greenlit Saturday’s terrorist attacks. Yet to be confirmed by the American State Department, this is likely true. Tehran has as much interest as Hamas in preventing this deal from moving forward. For all its recent friendliness with Riyadh, both Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Saudi MBS know how to read a map. If a security pact is formalized between the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, Iran will be truly isolated. This is why Iran has worked so hard over recent years to create a united front surrounding Israel, the country it has referred to as “little Satan” for over forty years. If the report from the Wall Street Journal is true, Tehran has been coordinating small attacks from Gaza and the West Bank since April of this year, months before Biden approved the $6 billion hostage release.
The GOP is right to lambast the Biden administration for paying such a high price for American hostages, as comforting as it is that these hostages are now home. They are also right that Iran has always and will continue to invest heavily in its terrorist proxies. However, this attack was launched independent of the United States. Whether we had a president in office who only speaks kindly of Israel or one who routinely lectures Netanyahu about Palestine, Hamas would have carried out this operation and Iran would have cheered them on.
President Biden has already strongly affirmed his support for Israel. If his support for Ukraine is any indication, his promise to never waiver in defense of Jerusalem is true. At this stage, republicans should be working with the Biden administration to ensure that any support needed by Israel is provided quickly. Instead of pointing fingers, they should find a competent Speaker of the House to expedite this process and provide a united front for American leadership. On the Democrat side, if it is true that Iran helped in any way this attack, the money given to Tehran should be retrieved and given as aid to Israel.