Daniel Byman

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 2024. Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters

Last year, less than a month before Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel changed everything, Israel and Saudi Arabia were negotiating an agreement to normalize ties. After decades of icy relations, Riyadh’s price for peace was admittedly high: in addition to U.S. security guarantees and at least token Israeli concessions on Palestinian sovereignty, Saudi negotiators were demanding access to civilian nuclear technology. Today, despite a fresh push by the Biden administration, such an agreement remains only a remote possibility. With the Israel-Hamas war raging on, even if Saudi officials were interested in talking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they would likely find it impossible to negotiate a lasting peace while Arab publics, including their own, are outraged at the humanitarian crisis Israel’s military campaign has created in Gaza.…  Seguir leyendo »

Israeli soldiers in Gaza, February 2024. Israel Defense Forces / Reuters

Six months after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, Israel seems stuck. Its war in Gaza has inflicted grievous blows on Hamas, and the group is unlikely to be able to carry out another comparable attack for some time, if ever. The price for this success is high, however, both in terms of Palestinian lives and Israel’s reputation. Israel remains far from its goal of destroying Hamas, and it seems trapped in a military campaign that is likely to make only incremental progress at huge cost.

After October 7, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swore to “destroy Hamas” by killing its leaders, shattering its military forces, and demolishing its infrastructure.…  Seguir leyendo »

PA President Mahmoud Abbas meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others in Amman, Jordan, October 2023. Jacquelyn Martin / Reuters

At some point, the explosions and gunfire will stop, and the war in the Gaza Strip will end. Someone must then govern Gaza, but the options are poor. Hamas certainly will not be left in charge, since Israelis vow they will never allow the group to rebuild its military capacity and again threaten Israel. Israel could decide to take over the strip itself, but it has little desire to rule over two million hostile Palestinians who would undoubtedly wage a low-level insurgency while Israel’s tottering international legitimacy declines further. Others have proposed an international force composed mostly of troops from Arab states, but the potential Arab participants have declared that a nonstarter.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Israeli soldier at the opening of a tunnel in northern Gaza, December 2023. Amir Cohen / Reuters.

If devastation is the goal, Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip has been a resounding success. More than two months after Hamas killed over 1,100 people on October 7, Israeli air and ground operations have killed some 20,000 Palestinians, many of them children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry. Much of Gaza lies in ruins, with the United Nations estimating that almost 20 percent of the territory’s prewar structures have been destroyed. More than half of Gazans are experiencing severe hunger, unemployment has risen to 85 percent, and disease is spreading.

But the statements of a few extremist ministers notwithstanding, Israel’s goals in Gaza are broader and more strategic than inflicting pain on the Palestinians.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Palestinian man taking a selfie next to a burning Israeli tank, Israel, October 2023. Yasser Qudih / Reuters

As thousands of rockets rain down on Israel, lighting up the skyline of Tel Aviv and other cities, the country’s current priority is to defend its towns and military bases against Hamas’s sudden and devastating attacks from the Gaza Strip. Israel will try to root out the militants, prevent more infiltrators, and silence the rockets and mortars bombarding its people.

Given the scale of Hamas’s attacks and Israel’s surprise, none of these tasks will be easy. And even if Israel succeeds, it faces difficult choices on what to do next to ensure that Hamas is weakened and that such an attack does not recur.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mourning Palestinian Naseem Abu Fuda, Hebron, West Bank, January 2023. Mussa Qawasma / Reuters

Since the collapse of the second intifada—a large and sustained Palestinian uprising—in 2005, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has smoldered. Hamas has launched miniature wars in the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian armed groups and individuals have carried out terrorist attacks in the West Bank, prompting a harsh Israeli military response. Palestinians have resisted in other ways, too—marching, protesting, and throwing rocks. Despite many violent flare-ups, however, both sides have avoided fighting that reaches the scope and scale of the second intifada, even though a negotiated settlement seems more distant than ever.

But dangerous developments on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides are now converging, and the outlook for 2023 seems grim.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Afghan soldier at a road checkpoint near a U.S. military base in Bagram on Thursday. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. troops are beginning the process of leaving Afghanistan, after almost 20 years of fighting. Announcing his decision to complete the U.S. withdrawal by September, President Biden declared: “I believed that our presence in Afghanistan should be focused on the reason we went in the first place: to ensure Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again. We did that. We accomplished that objective”.

But al-Qaeda — which, after 9/11, provided the U.S. rationale for invading Afghanistan — still has 400 to 600 members fighting with the Taliban, according to U.N. Security Council estimates.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Good News About Terrorism

In terrorism, we may remember 2018 for what didn’t happen: The jihadist threat to the United States has dissipated. We had only one death from jihadist-linked terrorism in this country, and while disturbing, it was hardly an Islamic State spectacular. (In Florida, a teenage boy, inspired by jihadist videos, stabbed a 13-year-old friend to death during a sleepover.)

This death toll is dwarfed by the 2018 body count from right-wing terrorism (15) and a far cry from attacks like the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, when a jihadist loner shot 49 people. The number of jihadist terrorism-related legal cases has also plummeted, to 13 this year from 80 in 2015.…  Seguir leyendo »

Soldados del ejército iraquí avanzan sobre Ramadi, donde ondeaba la bandera del Estado Islámico. Credit Osama Sami/Associated Press

Las bombas que explotaron en Bruselas la mañana del martes provocando la muerte de más de 30 personas son solo el último ataque terrorista en un continente que comienza a ver situaciones tan horribles como una nueva realidad. Horas después, el Estado Islámico reivindicó la autoría de los atentados.

Es necesario contextualizar esta violencia sin sentido. Los Estados Unidos y sus aliados occidentales golpean las bases del Estado Islámico en Siria e Irak. Puede que el grupo ya esté a la defensiva. Pero mientras tanto arremete y trata de extender su yihad global. Europa se ha convertido en el campo de batalla de esa guerra.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi troops advancing on a village near Ramadi, Iraq, with an Islamic State flag. The Islamic State’s military setbacks in Iraq and Syria mean it will need to win victories elsewhere. Credit Osama Sami/Associated Press

The bombs that exploded in the Brussels airport and at a central metro station on Tuesday morning, killing at least 30 people, came as only the latest in a string of terrorist outrages on a continent that is starting to see horrific violence as the new normal. Hours later the Islamic State claimed responsibility.

This carnage must be seen in context: The United States and its Western allies are hitting the Islamic State hard in its bases in Iraq and Syria. The jihadist group may finally be on the defensive. But meantime, it is lashing out, taking its fight — and its struggle for supremacy among jihadists — global.…  Seguir leyendo »

An image made available by the jihadist Twitter account Al-Baraka News last week purports to show militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria driving on a newly cut road across the Syria-Iraq border. The group captured several Iraqi cities last week. (-/AFP/Getty Images)

In the fight against jihadist insurgents across the planet, the United States can offer its partners a lot of help: arms and intelligence, training for local security forces, economic aid, and in extreme cases, air strikes to take out the bad guys.

It is the allies, of course, that get to do the actual fighting and dying.

After more than a decade of conflicts in which American ground forces served in harm’s way, the United States is moving to a more hands-off approach in its fight against insurgents with ideological or operational ties to al-Qaeda. In Afghanistan, President Obama has announced a major drawdown of troops, and in Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, the United States intervenes mainly via drones or small numbers of troops training local forces.…  Seguir leyendo »

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is not a terrorist movement, at least not currently. But the move by the military-led government to ban it from politics and declare it a “terrorist organization” may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The announcement followed a car bombing outside a government security building in Mansoura on Dec. 24 that killed at least 15 people; the government blamed the Brotherhood. Now, Brotherhood members and donors risk prosecution and imprisonment, and the ban is potentially crippling to the vast network of schools, clinics and other social services the Brotherhood runs and to the poor Egyptians who have long relied on them.…  Seguir leyendo »

“The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable,” President Obama warned Bashar al-Assad’s government last December. “If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.”

This threat followed the president’s earlier warning that “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” This red line has come to haunt Mr. Obama. Last week, the American intelligence community assessed “with varying degrees of confidence” that the Syrians had used the chemical agent sarin in their attacks on the opposition.…  Seguir leyendo »

More than 60 years after its founding, the state that David Ben Gurion and other Israeli founding fathers built still does not know peace. Longtime enemies such as Egypt have laid down their arms, but Syria remains defiant, and in Lebanon, Hezbollah wages an on-again, off-again, low-level war. Most troubling, Israel rules uneasily over the West Bank and is in a state of near war with Hamas-led Gaza. The lack of resolution to the Palestinian problem is increasingly making Israel an international pariah.

Patrick Tyler, an eminent journalist who has reported for The Washington Post and the New York Times, offers a provocative explanation for Israel’s constant insecurity: Its leaders, particularly its security elite, are unable and unwilling to turn their guns into ploughshares.…  Seguir leyendo »

Late this past June, a group of Israeli settlers in the West Bank defaced and burned a mosque in the small West Bank village of Jabaa. Graffiti sprayed by the vandals warned of a “war” over the planned evacuation, ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court, of a handful of houses illegally built on private Palestinian land near the settlement of Beit El. The torching of the mosque was part of a wider trend of routine violence committed by radical settlers against innocent Palestinians, Israeli security personnel, and even mainstream settler leaders — all aimed at intimidating perceived enemies of the settlement project.…  Seguir leyendo »

One year after a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in an act of defiance that would ignite protests and unseat long-standing dictatorships, a harsh chill is settling over the Arab world. The peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen that were supposed to bring democracy have instead given way to bloodshed and chaos, with the forces of tyranny trying to turn back the clock.

It is too soon to say that the Arab Spring is gone, never to resurface. But the Arab Winter has clearly arrived.

Tunisia, where it all began, recently carried out free elections. But that country — small, ethnically and religiously homogenous, and prosperous — was always a more likely candidate for a successful transition to democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

The biggest obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians is the emergence of Hamas as the de facto government of the Gaza Strip, where 1.5 million Palestinians reside. Peace talks can begin with Hamas on the sidelines, but they cannot finish if Hamas refuses to play ball.

Hamas has proved that it has the means to disrupt peace talks with rocket and mortar strikes, shootings of Israeli soldiers and agricultural workers near the Gaza border, and the kidnapping of personnel from the Israel Defense Forces. But it can also undermine peace talks without using violence.

Hamas can allow other terrorist groups to operate from Gaza and claim impotence or ignorance.…  Seguir leyendo »