Just days before Israelis began preparing for Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited the Jewish state to meet with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During his visit, journalist Tal Shalev asked Mattis if he stands by his comments from 2013, when he stated Israeli settlements could lead to “apartheid.” Mattis replied that while Israel’s security “will always be a priority,” to achieve a sustainable security, Israel must look out for the “rights of other people.”
Sadly, by re-inflating the obsolete Israeli-Palestinian issue, Mattis squandered the opportunity to start the process of molding a strategic doctrine that would have otherwise appropriately focused on the goal of politically and diplomatically isolating political Islam. Instead of taking the opportunity to terminate the distraction of an outmoded historical narrative, Mattis reverted to a familiar answer which, due to its incongruence with reality, bleeds energy from the complicated task of constructing a coalition unified around this objective.
The Victim Narrative Justifies Illegitimate Violence
Where Mattis’s ultimate objective is to neutralize the physical threat posed by ISIS and Iran, such neutralization must include a degree of penetration in both diplomatic and political realms, ensuring a long-lasting result. This means explaining that the global scourge of 30,667 events of Islamic terror committed since 9/11 is actually not the disease, but the symptom.
Others symptoms are the aforementioned torture camp for gays in Chechnya, the beheadings of infidels in Saudi Arabia, the rash of honor killings in Texas and around the world, the stoning of women in Afghanistan, and the brutal beating and detention of homosexuals in Iran. Where ISIS may be a tactical enemy, the broader strategic challenge is the group of states and institutions facilitating the spread and incubation of Islamist ideology—the lifeblood of all of the above symptoms. Otherwise, as fast as we eliminate ISIS, history shows that the vast presence of these institutions, many embedded innocuously within the political folds of democratic nations, will expedite the birth of an ISIS replacement.
Most attribute Mattis’s statements to the outdated lens through which he continues, after serving as commander of the U.S. Military Central Command (CENTCOM), to look at Islam and the Middle East. Prior to the current historically unprecedented surge of Muslim-on-Muslim violence—which has claimed more than 1 million victims in five years—diplomatic and military leaders have frequently laid the blame for regional instability on the unaddressed Palestinian narrative of victimhood. This narrative, based on the radicalization of a substantial proportion of Palestinians, has been invalidated. The shocking explosion of Islamist violence against Muslims has conclusively proven that in relation to the region’s volatility, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute must be seen as little more than a sideshow.
This Is a Distraction from Needed Discourse
Reverting to Mattis’s anachronistic reference of history’s course, we are unnecessarily distracted from the essential task of building a global coalition that will come together around the goal of isolating the Iranians. Iran, which openly boasts of its Islamist ideological dream of slaughtering or enslaving non-believers, is not a nation that should have been allowed the latitude it was given through the horribly flawed nuclear deal.
Judging by his comments on the issue, Mattis deserves credit for understanding the imminent danger of a potentially nuclear Iran. Yet dangling reminiscent wisps of the invalidated Palestinian narrative will only encumber the moral clarity and credibility required to unwind the impossibly tangled diplomatic failure of the nuclear deal. Only with a resolute focus on the big-picture goal—isolating political Islam—can Mattis avoid the staggering costs of military engagement.