Do you guys remember like a year ago when nobody would shut up about how it was the beginning of World War 3, and how Iran was about to bomb the West? Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was assassinated on January 3, 2020. Iran launched the two missile strikes at U.S. military bases on January 8, the night tensions reached their peak. That was only a year and three days ago. You can’t convince me that we haven’t all slipped into a parallel purgatory universe, like our world was destroyed and we’ve all been shunted to another plane where time has increasingly less meaning.
Anyway, we started off last year by antagonizing Iran, and we sort of rounded the year off with one in November. Remember the Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was assassinated in a car bomb attack in Tehran? If you don’t, there was this Iranian nuclear scientist named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh who was assassinated in a car bomb attack in Tehran. And again, that was only in November. Everybody agreed that it was Israel that did it, and everyone also pretty much agreed that Mr. Fakhrizadeh had in fact been in charge of making nukes, but only until about ‘03, so the car bomb/gunmen combo assassination didn’t seem really proportional.
Wreckage caused by the U.S. drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani and another Iranian military official outside of an airport in Tehran (via CNN)
Both killings obviously served to antagonize relations between the West and Iran, and particularly between the latter and Israel. In both cases, the threat of bombing the coastal Israeli city of Haifa, near Lebanon, was tossed around, and on January 8, it was named as the next check box on Iran’s “go to war with America” checklist. The threat of conflict with the rest of the Middle East plays into Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s image as a hardliner who can best secure the country’s safety in the face of such drastic opposition.
It’s probably what’s kept him around so long. He’s been Prime Minister for over 14 years, and he’s managed to maintain a grip on power through three separate corruption indictments (in which he denies wrongdoing). The last challenge came in March 2020, when the election resulted in a coalition government and an agreement to rotate power from Netanyahu to his centrist counterpart, Benny Gantz, in November 2021, and trade back and forth. Kind of like a shitty custody situation. Except with a country.
The coalition dissolved though, on December 22, 2020, when the Israeli legislature, the Knesset, failed to pass a state budget before the deadline to dissolve. That automatically triggered an election this coming March, literally only a year after the last one. The difference is that this time, Netanyahu faces down Gideon Saar, who was a popular member of his own Likud party, until just recently when Mr. Saar left the party to challenge the incumbent in the coming months.
Given how much of politics in Israel seems to be focused on Netanyahu’s personality, it stands to reason that if Israelis vote him out, they’ll do it out of dislike for the man, rather than out of a rejection of his policies. If voters see Saar as an ideologically similar alternative to Netanyahu’s messy situation, the region could be stuck dealing with harsh right-wing foreign policy regardless of who comes out on top.
That would also continue to be shitty for Palestinians who have been subject to shitty policies from Israel for decades, resulting in some pretty serious instances of the deprivation of human rights. Netanyahu’s government has been steadfast in its commitment to fully annex the West Bank, a Palestinian territory inside Israel, and pressed up against Jordan. These days they call that move “the Putin,” but it’s been a long-term goal for Israel, since way before Crimea.
So that’s the bad news for regional critics, but the good news is that Trump lost (read every millennial Instagram post for a month). Trump has been supportive of many of the Israeli government’s more inflammatory policies — You might remember that in 2017, Trump made the call to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, a move that pissed off the already constantly pissed off Arab world and garnered him strong support in Israel.
Ivanka Trump at the controversial U.S. embassy in Jerusalem (Credits: REUTERS, via Al Jazeera)
Analysts have speculated that Fakhrizadeh’s assassination was at least partially motivated by an attempt to preemptively destabilize U.S.-Iranian relations before Joe Biden’s inauguration this month. Biden has said he will work to rejoin Obama’s 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Trump’s administration subsequently exited and replaced with a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic restrictions.
If this last theory has any merit, it’s straight up just so petty, like what the fuck. It also seems really messed up to intentionally destabilize your region in order to bully your strongest ally into relying more heavily on you, which is what results from deteriorating Western relationships in the Middle East. It’s even worse because when the West relies more heavily on Israel, it consequently lends more legitimacy to some of Israel’s shittier policies.
And this is what I wanted to get to, because while it’s been a hell of a year for Israel, it’s really been a hell of a year for the whole region. Finally, through all of the chaos, the vaccines emerged and every country in the world began rolling out their vaccination plans. Israel managed to rack up one of the fastest rates in the world, however, they have declined to provide vaccinations to the occupied Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, which is all kinds of fucked up.
According to the Independent, the WHO reported that almost 8,000 Palestinian medics had been infected by the coronavirus, and requested that Israel at least provide vaccinations to frontline workers, but the request was denied.
Look, I get that Israel is important to the stability of the Middle East, now that the Middle East has been completely destabilized by it and its allies, and I get that the West is obligated to defend it. But at least don’t go around actively destabilizing the region for political ends. And above everything else, please don’t commit what rights groups have called a war crime against Palestinians by leaving them vulnerable to a deadly virus that wipes out swaths of human life.
As much as I wish this wasn’t the case, by the standards of international norms, you can have a liberal democracy that favours one religion over the others. We celebrate Christmas as a national holiday, for example. But if you’re gonna go that route, you can’t just overtly condemn the others to sickness and death.
That’s some biblical shit, and time may have lost meaning, but I don’t think we’ve come full circle just yet.