The southern front suddenly ignited this weekend. A coordinated terror attack on Israel's border with Egypt is planned in the Gaza Strip; the militants are attacked, and retaliate by firing rockets at Israeli towns. Israel launches more air strikes. The brief, fragile calm is disturbed. The Iron Dome antimissile system is fairly effective, but most of the population is not protected. Anyway, in the event of war the batteries will be redeployed to intercept rockets aimed at Israel Air Force bases. You couldn't ask for better proof of last week's remarks by Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated, with his natural partners in the Israeli right, his imaginary achievement in Washington, D.C. - to replace the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the dangers of a nuclear-capable Iran in the public awareness - Mattis restored to its proper place the importance of ending the conflict.
Mattis is not a politician, campaigning for Congress or a presidential nomination. He does not care about the votes, or the money, of American Jews. He does not conceal his affinity with the Israel Defense Forces and his friendship with Israel, which go back a long way. Any attempt to portray him as hostile to Israel or as kowtowing to the Arabs, who predominate in many of the important countries in his purview, is bogus. Like his predecessors in the post, Mattis refuses to ignore the link between the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and other issues in the Middle East.
Not everything is rooted in this conflict. There are other factors in the deadly confrontations between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, between Iran and Gulf states, as well as in the "Arab Awakening," to use Mattis' term. But, Mattis said, the absence of a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a "preeminent flame that keeps the pot boiling in the Middle East, particularly as the Arab Awakening causes Arab governments to be more responsive to the sentiments of their populations," who are hostile to Israel. This affects the Americans' ability to promote regional cooperation against the threats the moderate Arab states have in common with Israel - the chief one being a nuclear-capable Iran.
Postponing the settlement of the conflict with the Palestinians is bad for Israel. The belief that the leaders of the region and the world have given up and set the issue aside is an illusion; the price of waking up from it grows constantly dearer.
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