Lessons for Israel from American Abandonment of Afghanistan

Lessons for Israel
American Abandonment

© David Burton 2021

America Abandons Afghanistan to Taliban

     Thousands of Americans lost their lives in the course of the 20-year war that began on September 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States. In righteous indignation, the George W. Bush administration began targeting the Taliban in Afghanistan for harboring the Osama bin-laden led al-Qaeda terrorists. Now, 20-years later, President Biden has all but abandoned the country to a Taliban regime of medieval savagery and backwardness.

     Israel has twice in recent decades carried out its own hasty military withdrawals on its very own doorstep, under circumstances and with consequences it has lived to regret. Israel left southern Lebanon unilaterally in 2000, and was plunged into the Second Lebanon War six years later. Now Israel faces a full-fledged Hezbollah army on that front. Israel left Gaza unilaterally in 2005, choosing neither to negotiate the pullout with the Palestinian Authority nor to heed the warnings that the withdrawal emboldened Hamas and other terrorist groups. Israel chose to cut and run. Ever since, Israel has faced endless friction and intermittent bloody conflict with Hamas.
     And that is what the United States has now done in Afghanistan, to devastating effect. It has chosen to cut and run. In doing so,It has handed Afghanistan back to the Taliban - brutal and benighted Islamic fundamentalists who, when they last controlled the country, oppressed women with a methodical viciousness unparalleled by any other regime worldwide; indiscriminately massacred civilians; restricted education; destroyed agriculture; banned culture and recreation and on and on.
     For Israel, the American debacle in Afghanistan is a reinforcement of its insistence that Israel, and Israel alone, put its lives on the line in its defense. Israel dare not rely on any other country or alliance to protect it from its enemies.
     For Israel, its allies and semi-allies in the region, the US mishandling of Afghanistan shocks and horrifies because it gives succor to terrorist groups and extremist regimes. First and foremost of these is Iran, closing in on the bomb, toying with the US in negotiations over a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, determined to destroy “Little Satan” Israel, and now even more contemptuous of the “Great Satan.”
     For the United States, bitter experience indicates all too well that its hasty departure and the subsequent consequences will exact a far greater cost in lives and dollars than staying would have.
     The 20th anniversary of 9/11, when 3,000 Americans lost their lives in al-Qaeda’s horrific terrorist assault, serves to grimly underline the direct consequences for the United States of failing to reckon with the ruthless and amoral Islamic fundamentalist terror groups such as Iran, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS. Today, they are more confident and stronger than they were just a short time ago. And the bastion of the free world’s defense against them, the United States of America, looks tired and irresolute.[1]

     As Israel observes the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, it’s difficult to forget the capitulation of the Iraqi army to ISIS in 2014 or the EUBAM (European Union Border Assistance Mission) observers who fled as Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, not to mention visions of the United States fleeing Saigon in the spring of 1975 as part of the collapse of the Vietnam War.
     America’s rash retreat from Afghanistan reinforces the implications that:

  1. Islamist radicalism is once again on the march,
  2. the Americans have no staying power, and
  3. the West is in decline.
     With respect to Israel’s own concerns of Islamic fundamentalists taking over “Palestinian” areas besides Gaza, which Hamas already controls, Israel need no longer listen to lectures from the Americans on how Israel could trust “Palestinian” security forces to run their country and keep Israelis safe once the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) leaves Samaria and Judea.
     Israel has long argued that a future “Palestinian” state without Israeli oversight would easily collapse if confronted by a terrorist organization like the Islamic State (ISIS), the Taliban or Hamas. Look no further than the Taliban and Afghanistan today or Hamas and the Gaza Strip back in 2007.
     The fall of Afghanistan only strengthens Israel’s argument against leaving security in the hands of the “Palestinians”.
     Having finally extricated itself from the quagmire that is Afghanistan - a goal shared by the previous two U.S. administrations, one Democratic and one Republican - America has simultaneously sent a dark and ominous signal suggesting to its allies that it is no longer reliable, especially since it grossly underestimated the speed at which the Taliban took control.
     It is suspected that the retreat from Afghanistan reflects a broader desire of the U.S. to withdraw from commitments in the Middle East and its surrounding area – including America’s commitments to Israel. Additionally, the Taliban victory increases the morale of other terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda.
     One of the important implications for Israel is that it must track the increasing ties between the Taliban and Hamas. A high Hamas political chief recently met with Taliban leaders in Qatar to discuss cooperation. The Taliban representatives congratulated Hamas on its “victory” in “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in which the terrorist organization claimed it came out the winner. In return, the Hamas official congratulated the Taliban on the end of the U.S. “occupation” of Afghanistan.[2]

     The Biden administration justified our withdrawal from Afghanistan on the grounds that we needed to switch to more serious geopolitical rivalries, as with China. Maybe we do. But doing so didn’t require pulling a few thousand troops and contractors from Afghanistan. More importantly, does anyone truly believe that this self-inflicted blow to our national honor will improve our standing in the world? The signal sent to our friends like Israel and Taiwan and to our adversaries like China and North Korea is now that America can’t be counted on.[3]

     “Biden made ‘America is back’ the unofficial slogan of his presidency. Imagine how that phrase sounds to the Afghans swarming the Kabul airport. Or how it would have sounded to the poor souls who clung to the outside of a transport plane before they plummeted to their deaths? Or how hollow it sounds to the millions of Afghan girls facing forced marriages to Taliban fighters?” (Ref. 4) Imagine what this very sad joke now sounds like to America’s allies who - to a large degree – have depended upon U.S. support to aid them in defending their countries against numerous internal and external enemies.

     America’s supposedly sacrosanct support of Israel was already becoming suspect with the rise to power of a number of “progressive” Democrats, starting back with that Jewish non-Jew Senator Bernie Sanders. The eroding of support for the defense of Israel by the U.S. was apparent back in 2019 when it was reported that progressive House Democrats were putting pressure on the party to reconsider the amount and nature of U.S. aid to Israel, something that had long been supported strongly by both parties.
     At that time, the U.S. provided $3.8 billion annually for Israel to purchase American military hardware, including aircraft, tanks, munitions, missile defense, and other needs with respect to ensuring Israel’s own defense.
     Democratic lawmakers were becoming more vocal in calling for change in U.S. policies toward Israel. The Democratic caucus at the time included the first two Muslim women in Congress, Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.), as well as their ally Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.). All three, along with other Democrats, challenged the idea of the U.S. helping to protect Israel’s security.[5]

     Israel’s enemies were quick to get President Biden’s message! Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, issued a word of caution to Israel, saying that the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan called into question America’s ability to be a reliable ally.
     The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan gave rise to the chaotic situation that unfolded and has prompted bipartisan criticism of President Joe Biden at home and from adversaries abroad, including China and Hezbollah, who have capitalized on the fallout to sow skepticism of America's support of other nations and territories.
     The Global Times, a Chinese state-run news outlet, issued a warning to Taiwan in an editorial which noted that Afghanistan spiraled out of control as America exited and asked the question: "Is this some kind of omen of Taiwan's future?"[6]

     “In the 19th century, the phrase ‘The Great Game’ was used to describe competition for power and influence in Afghanistan, and neighboring central and south Asia territories, between the British and Russian empires.
     Neither side prevailed in what became known as the ‘graveyard of empires’.
     “Two centuries later, an American superpower has been reminded of a similar reality.
     “The Afghanistan debacle, in which a 300,000-strong US-trained and equipped Afghan army collapsed in hours serves as a reminder of the limits of American power in the wider Middle East.” (Ref. 7)

     After the fall of Kabul and the hasty US withdrawal from a country on which it had squandered $1 trillion, the question remains: what next for the Middle East?
     This is a question whose arc stretches from Morocco in the west to Pakistan in the east, from Turkey in the north down into the Gulf and across to the Horn of Africa. Every corner of the Middle East and North Africa will be touched in some way by the failure of American authority in Afghanistan, the longest war in its history. America’s reckoning is also shared by its NATO allies and countries like Australia, considering Australia’s participation in an open-ended commitment to Afghanistan.
     The Afghan debacle is so concerning because much of the Middle East is at risk of descending into chaos. In the Middle East, Washington will find that its authority will be much questioned because confidence in its ability to stand by its commitments has been shaken, if not shattered.
     This comes at a time when China and Russia are testing American resolve globally. In the region itself, Turkey and Iran are already seeking to fill a vacuum exposed by an American failure.
     Beijing and Moscow, for their own reasons, have an interest in Afghanistan’s future. For China, that goes beyond just sharing a border, while for Russia it is historical concerns about Afghan extremism infecting its own Muslim populations and those of nation states on its periphery.
     China has been cultivating Taliban leaders. Its foreign minister held a well-publicized meeting with the Afghan Taliban’s political chief in July 2021.
     Then there is Pakistan, which has supported the Taliban both covertly and overtly over the years. Islamabad will see in the American extreme discomfort opportunities for itself to assume a more significant regional role.
     The following questions remain to be answered. Will the al-Qaeda and Islamic State franchises be allowed to re-establish themselves in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan? Will the Taliban re-emerge as a state sponsor of terrorism? Will it continue to allow Afghanistan to be used as a giant market garden in the opium trade?
     These developments in Afghanistan will be capturing the close attention of the Middle East Gulf states. Qatar has provided a diplomatic haven for the Taliban during peace talks.
     Saudi Arabia will be unsettled by the Afghan developments because it is not in Riyadh’s interests for American authority in the region to be undermined. But the Saudis have their own longstanding links with the Taliban.
     More generally, the hit to US standing in the region will be worrying for its moderate Arab allies. This includes Egypt and Jordan. For both, with their own versions of the Taliban lurking in the shadows, events in Afghanistan are not good news.
     The Taliban success in Afghanistan will also have implications for the most combustible corner of the Middle East. In both Iraq and parts of Syria where the US maintains a military presence, the American exit will be unsettling.
     In Lebanon, which has become to all intents and purposes a failed state, the Afghanistan debacle will be adding to the gloom.
     Israel will be calculating the implications of the setback suffered by its principal ally. Increased Middle East instability is definitely not to Israel’s advantage.[7]

  1. Catastrophe in Afghanistan — for Afghans, Israel, the region… and for America, David Horovitz,
    The Times of Israel, 19 August 2021.
  2. Analysis: After US Withdrawal from Afghanistan, Implications for Israel Look Grimmer, Israel Kasnett,
    United With Israel, 18 August 2021.
  3. Troop withdrawal shows allies US isn’t reliable partner, Jonah Goldberg, Boston Herald: Page 13,
    20 August 2021.
  4. Biden’s Afghan disaster narrative is faulty at best, Doug Grindle, Boston Herald: Page 12, 20 August 2021.
  5. Progressives press Democrats to rethink Israel policy, Laura Kelly, The Hill, 5 November 2019.
  6. Hezbollah Calls Afghanistan a Lesson for Israel About U.S. Support, Jenni Fink, Newsweek, 19 August 2021.
  7. Afghanistan Has Fallen. What Does That Mean for the Middle East?, Tony Walker, the quint, 17 August 2021.

  2 September 2021 {Article_491; Israel_56}    
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