Palestinian Bombings Spark Fear of New Middle East War

As hundreds of rockets hit Israel, U.S. fears derailment of peace process

Missiles from Israel's Iron Dome air defense system in the south of Israel destroy incoming missiles fired at Israel from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza
Missiles from Israel's Iron Dome air defense system in the south of Israel destroy incoming missiles fired at Israel from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza / Getty Images

A recent wave of terror attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants is stoking fears in Washington, D.C., circles of a new Middle Eastern war that could further enflame the region, according to U.S. officials who worry the renewed violence could derail the Trump administration's plans to foster peace.

Palestinian terrorists have fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians in recent days, fueling a temporary cease-fire that has deepened fears in the Trump administration that Israel will conduct a full scale—and they say warranted—incursion that would cripple hopes for a fragile peace process.

As Israel deals with a worsening barrage of rocket attacks—which has totaled in the hundreds in the past several days, the worst violence since 2014—some in the Trump administration orbit are beginning to telegraph fears of a new Middle Eastern war between Israel and Hamas loyalists in the Gaza Strip and Southern Lebanon, where Iranian-backed militants have stockpiled scores of sophisticated arms.

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Israel, according to U.S. officials and others, is on the brink of unleashing a full-scale offensive attack on Hamas militants, with sources telling Washington Free Beacon the Israelis "look ready" to undertake a formal incursion aimed at stopping the assault on Israeli civilians.

The U.S. Congress is signaling it will stand by the Jewish state as it combats attacks from Palestinian militants, including those in the Gaza Strip operating on orders from Hamas.

"The Israelis have done everything reasonable, and beyond, to avoid an escalation," said one U.S. official working on the matter. "Hamas had burned thousands of acres of Israeli land but the Israelis, under international pressure, have held back and instead opened up humanitarian pipelines to Gaza Strip civilians."

While Israel has shown restraint in recent years, bucking retaliation in the pursuit of regional peace negotiations, some in leading U.S. policy circles say the Jewish sate has been left with few options.

"Now, the Israelis look ready, they're going to roll with the 400 rockets and missiles Hamas just fired at their civilians, which no other country would do, but are pressured in a way no other country is," said one U.S. official tracking the situation. "When Jerusalem finally decides that enough is enough—and they will—they will be totally justified and Congress will have their back."

Officially, the Trump's administration's State Department is urging calm.

"We are aware of reports of ongoing rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza against targets in Israel," a State Department spokesperson, speaking on background, told the Free Beacon. "We condemn these attacks, and call for their immediate halt. We stand with Israel as it defends itself against these attacks."

The Trump administration's public comments contrast greatly with that of the Obama administration, which pursued a policy of so-called daylight with Israel as it faced numerous terror attacks.

The Trump administration has been communicating that violence will not be tolerated.

"The onus is on Hamas to stop firing rockets at innocent civilians in Israel," said one US official. "Israel has a right to defend itself against these recent terrorist attacks.  Not only do Israelis suffer, but Palestinians in Gaza are again held hostage to the whims of Hamas."

The Palestinian blitzkrieg also is renewing traction in Congress for legislation sanctioning any terror group that uses human shields, a tactic routinely employed by Hamas.

That legislation, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), is still waiting approval by Congress before January of next year, when the newly elected Democrat-led House will take over. The bill, as a matter of process, will die if Congress does not take a vote before January.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, the nation's leading pro-Israel organization, told the Free Beacon it supports a House vote on Cruz's human shields legislation, which is becoming all the more relevant as Hamas terrorists employ children and woman in their attacks.

"We strongly support this legislation and we are working for a final vote in the House in the coming days which is particularly needed in light of ongoing Hamas attacks," an AIPAC spokesperson told the Free Beacon.

Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East expert and former Treasury Department official who now works at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Trump's Middle East team realizes that no peace can be formed while terrorists are dropping bombs on Israel.

"The [Middle East adviser Jason] Greenblatt team openly acknowledges the challenge associated with the Palestinian divide," Schanzer said. "It's impossible to achieve a comprehensive peace deal while Hamas, a militant terrorist group dedicated to Israel's destruction, remains entrenched in Gaza. The negotiations team has worked to address the poverty and isolation of Gaza, but that has evolved into a separate track from the so-called ‘ultimate deal.'"

Schanzer said the current crisis could have a bearing on the region's future.

"Ironically, the crisis in Gaza could shift the thinking of some of the regional actors and prompt a shift in approach to include Gaza," he said. "But, again, the prospects of success remain dim so long as Hamas remains in power."