For whatever reason, the Obama administration wasn’t willing to wait and lead from behind on this one. Within hours of a Hamas rocket landing near Ben Gurion airport – for the first time in the current conflict – the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an order banning U.S. carriers from operating there. As many readers will have heard, a Delta Airlines flight headed for Ben Gurion on Tuesday had to turn around over the Mediterranean and divert to Paris.
The ban is in effect for 24 hours, starting at 12:15 EDT on the 22nd. The ban will be revisited at the end of the 24 hours (which at this point is about 10 hours from now).
A number of European nations have followed suit.
An unjustified political action
Pundits and other advocates have been swift to condemn this U.S. action, a serious measure of economic isolation which will deny Israel millions of dollars in commercial revenues even if it lasts only 24 hours. Eugene Kontorovich points out that the message is prejudicial and the timing is suspicious, with John Kerry heading for Israel to try to broker a ceasefire.
The subtext here is that Israel has a sword at its neck: face a private-sector no-fly zone or agree to a cease-fire that lets Hamas keep its rockets, and thus close Ben Gurion Airport again at the time of its choosing. It is a lose-lose proposition. …
Moreover, the timing of the FAA’s absurd and unjustified warning seems to have more to do with Kerry’s visit to the region to impose a cease-fire on Israel. Until his administration’s flight ban, that effort seemed entirely futile.
The message is unsubtle. “Nice commercial hub you got, there, Bibi. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”
Kontorovich observes further that the FAA would have been more consistent with its policies elsewhere if it had issued a warning rather than imposing a ban. He cites the example of Afghanistan.
I would cite the example of Pakistan, where there have been multiple, very serious attacks on commercial airports in recent months, including an attack on an airliner in Peshawar, this one on the airport in Karachi, and an earlier one involving Taliban rocket fire in Peshawar. In terms of the type of threat posed, the Pakistan Taliban is a fairly exact analogy to what Hamas can threaten Ben Gurion in Lod, Israel with – except that Israel does a much better job of securing Ben Gurion against the Hamas threat. In none of the instances in Pakistan has the FAA banned U.S. carriers from flying in and out of the Pakistani airports. At most, it has issued safety warnings.
Meanwhile, the implication many will propose, about an abundance of caution after the MH17 shootdown over Ukraine, falls apart on inspection. The potential for a Hamas rocket to fall near the airport isn’t the same threat as the one posed by the fully militarized pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The pro-Russian separatists have the weaponry to shoot an airplane out of the sky at altitude – and they had actually done it before the MH17 shootdown. That game-changing condition is not present in Israeli air space.
Ordinarily – as with Pakistan – the U.S. would take such things into account and avoid issuing flight bans against an ally’s airport. As an “abundance of caution,” the flight ban on Ben Gurion is a psychotic one in comparison with the FAA’s use of its judgment elsewhere. See the Special Notices here for the FAA’s ongoing warnings for U.S. carriers about air space in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and North Korea. And note that in spite of the much greater potential threat to commercial aircraft in Syria and Iraq (for example) than in Israel, the prohibitions for U.S. carriers are not absolute in either nation.
The prohibition on Ben Gurion is uniquely stringent, and inconsistent with FAA practices elsewhere. It also had to be approved by Obama. Israel is an ally, one of America’s closest partners in the world. Cutting off her commercial airport from U.S. carriers is inherently a presidential-level decision, and Obama is responsible whether he made it or not.
Cutting the cords of the past
Gatestone Institute suggests that the Hamas-FAA move against Ben Gurion – my formulation; that’s essentially what it is – has effectively eliminated any viable “two-state solution.” Israel can’t tolerate the existence of a neighboring state that can hold the life’s blood of her economy at risk whenever it wishes – especially if Israel’s own chief ally doesn’t back Israel’s interests up, but instead throws in with her enemies.
What Obama has certainly killed with the Hamas-FAA gambit is any prospect of a new “peace agreement,” the Holy Grail pursued with such longing by Kerry. There is no basis for a substantive agreement now. Whatever happens at 12:15 EDT on 23 July, the U.S. has proved itself a faithless ally – or, at best, a worthless one, easily spooked and unprepared to back Israel up in enforcing the rule of law against lawless terrorism.
I continue to predict that Netanyahu will persist with the ground operation in Gaza as long as it takes to seriously degrade Hamas’s terror infrastructure, but ultimately will conclude a ceasefire agreement that effectively resets – for the time being – to the status quo ante. If I had my choice, I would see Israel destroy Hamas completely, this summer. But to insist on that, regardless of consequences, is to misread Israel’s freedom of action.
It is right now, at any rate. I note that Fatah could maneuver for a big gain out of this conflict, if its leadership ceased its weak-hand support of Hamas and shifted to a more cooperative posture with Israel. The glimmer of an interesting possibility, in which Fatah would take control of Gaza under an agreement supervised by Israel and Egypt, is beginning to throw off sparks of obviousness. It would not be a lasting solution, of course. Whether there is time for mindsets in the region to adjust to that kind of interim vision will depend, I think, on how long the IDF ground operation continues.
Ironically for Obama and Kerry, however, what their little Hamas-FAA gambit has done is liberate Israel from the constraints of the Oslo mindset. Whatever the ceasefire arrangement is, it will be temporary. And everyone except Barack Obama and John Kerry will understand that Israel – along with all the other parties – will develop a new goal and a new strategy coming out of this conflict. The likelihood is much stronger than it was three weeks ago that that new goal will not involve a “two-state solution.”