Afghanistan is back to square one after the blitz that the Taliban staged in the aftermath of the American troop withdrawal, 20 years after the US invaded the mountainous country following the Al Qaida attack on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
The total collapse of the US-trained, equipped and funded government forces hadn’t been anticipated by President Joe Biden. Biden had assured the American people that the $83 billion the US had spent on building the Afghan army would be enough to ensure that the Taliban wouldn’t be able to do what they had done before the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan and send the country back to the stone-age.
However, within a week, poorly-armed Taliban forces were able to conquer major Afghan cities, including Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
The victory of the Taliban will also have consequences for the Middle East and Israel since the Sunni Islamist bloc that includes groups like Al Qaida and ISIS is looking for a safe haven to regroup before staging another attempt to destabilize the region and take over additional countries.
The overall goals of Al Qaida and its offspring ISIS haven’t changed, and the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan could provide them with new abilities to seize control of destabilized countries such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, which is now close to total collapse.
The premature withdrawal of the US military and the subsequent humiliation of the US Administration of President Joe Biden at the hands of the Taliban will not reassure America’s allies in the Middle East, Israel included.
Israel’s own experiences
Israel has learned the lesson that the Taliban now teaches the US, and knows that when you pull out the army from enemy territory without a comprehensive plan for the day after, things will quickly deteriorate.
It happened in 2000 when then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak suddenly withdrew the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from southern Lebanon. The same also happened five years later, in 2005, when Israel pulled out the IDF and all Jewish residents from Gaza.
In both cases these withdrawals led to the deterioration of Israel’s security situation and eventually to war.
Mounting Hezbollah threat
By pulling the IDF out of southern Lebanon without an agreement or even coordination with the international community, the Israeli government invited Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, to take control of Israel’s northern border.
The ensuing Israeli passivity after Hezbollah indeed took over southern Lebanon and subsequently started to build up a huge missile arsenal is now one of the greatest threats to Israel’s security.
As we saw after the latest Hezbollah missile attack on August 6, Israel is very hesitant to react forcefully because that could cause another war with the Lebanese terror organization, which has the potential to spark a multi-front war that the Israeli military would be unable to handle.
Hamas congratulates the Taliban
In the case of Gaza, the Israeli government relied upon the Palestinian Authority and the European Union to fill the void left by the Israeli military, and hoped it could prevent Hamas from taking over Gaza. We all know how that ended.
Hamas has now, together with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, become part of the Iranian axis that welcomed the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Hamas on Monday hailed the retreat of US forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban victory over the US-backed Afghan army.
“The end of the occupation by the Americans and their allies proves that victory is the destiny for the resistance of the peoples – foremost of which is the struggle of our Palestinian people,” read a statement released by Hamas.
It remains a question how Hamas reached this conclusion since there’s no correlation between the war in Afghanistan and the never-ending Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzuk heaped praise on the Taliban for being clever in confrontnig a superpower like the United States and its Western allies. He also praised the Taliban for not falling “into the traps of democracy and elections.”
There’s no doubt that the victory of the Taliban over the well-trained and equipped Afghan army has given a major boost in terms of morale to Iran’s ‘resistance front’.
Iran also heaped praise on the Taliban for its victory over the Afghan army and immediately announced it will maintain relations with the new government of Afghanistan.
Before and after the American invasion of Afghanistan, Iran had maintained secret ties with the Taliban and Al-Qaida, which used the country as a hide-out and a place from which to prepare for the horrific attacks on the US in September 2001.
Will Israel learn the lesson?
Israel for its part should learn that only the utter defeat of its enemies will prevent an Afghanistan scenario.
The Americans and their allies never succeeded in routing the Taliban and taking control of all the territory of Afghanistan.
They furthermore relied on intelligence estimates that proved to be wrong, as the quick conquest of Afghan territory and cities by the Taliban made clear.
Another lesson Israel could learn from the Taliban victory is that a surplus of military power, intelligence and expertise doesn’t always mean that a war can be won against an enemy that hides behind a civilian population in territory it controls.
Israel had the chance to rout Hezbollah and Hamas in 2006 during the Second Lebanon War, and during the four wars against the terror organization in Gaza, but didn’t.
Finally, relying on the European Union or the United Nations to keep the peace has proved to be a mistake both in Lebanon and in Gaza.
The de facto defeat of the US enterprise in Afghanistan should teach Israel that it can’t fully rely even on its number one ally, the United States.
Whether or not the current Israeli government understands these lessons remains to be seen.
Both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and alternate PM Yair Lapid are currently sending mixed signals to Israel’s foes by not responding forcefully enough to recent provocations by Hamas and Hezbollah, and by promising (Lapid) the Biden Administration that Israel will not surprise the US when it decides to deal decisively with Iran’s nuclear threat.