The week gone by will go down in history as one of the biggest intelligence failures for the legendary Israeli Mossad and the US CIA. Hamas invaded Israel, on Saturday last, with coordinated attacks launched by land, air and sea in an operation termed “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood”.
Fighters penetrated and attacked military installations, communication towers, and settlements. 3000 to 5000 rockets rained down on Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Tel Aviv, and babies, women, elders and soldiers were kidnapped. Israel has declared it is at war and launched its “Operation Iron Swords”. Electricity and water has been cut off to Gaza. 3,60,000 reservists have been summoned by the Israeli Defence Service (IDS). People living in Gaza have been advised by Israel to evacuate their homes.
To provide perspective, Hamas does not recognize the existence of Israel. It is committed to replacing Israel with a Palestinian state through armed conflict. Hamas is supported by Iran. Russia after its Ukraine invasion has developed close ties with Iran. What is of concern is that Hezbollah, which so far had avoided escalation has come out to support Hamas. China too has close ties with Iran. Russia has called for a ceasefire.
Hamas is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) by the US Secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. The European Union too classify it as a terrorist organisation. The US president has expressed strong support for Israel and moved military assets, that is, aircraft carriers and fighter jets to the middle east.
Israel has requested cooperation with the United States on sharing intelligence. $6 Billion USD owed for Iranian Oil purchases was frozen in Korean banks by US sanctions. A deal brokered by Qatar, for the release of 5 US citizens detained by Iran, had allowed lifting of the freeze, but has been put on hold following the Hamas attacks.
While Hamas was treated as a terrorist organisation, to make life easier for Gazans, Israel had issued 15,000 work permitsfor workers who came into Israel each day, which was clearly abused to plan this attack. Military hardware was smuggled in as components, through underground tunnels, into Gaza and reassembled.
In 2021, Israel reported destroying 62 miles of underground tunnels, but it all came to nought. Rocket attacks by Hamas were typically managed by Israel’s missile defence system known as the “Iron Dome”. It does not shoot if an incoming missile or rocket is determined to land harmlessly.
But its Tamir interceptors, could not handle the fusillade of rockets fired on Saturday. Hamas, had clearly studied the system’s vulnerabilities and also used a new missile system “Rajum’ to break through the Iron Dome shield. Drones were deployed to drop explosives on Israeli military positions.
President Biden has termed the attack “an act of sheer evil” and assured emergency funding for military assistance but with US Congress without a Speaker after Kevin McCarthy’souster this may take time.
Emergency funding for Israel and ouster of Congress Speaker McCarthy
Biden’s Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) 2023 imposes strict limits on discretionary spending. So funding for both Israel and Ukraine may require an exemption from the FRA caps. But more importantly Congress without a Speaker will hamper funding of the emergency military assistance for Israel.
The House voted 216 to 210 to remove the Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a republican, from his position days after he reached a stop-gap spending deal, to avert a government shutdown, with Democrat support. This stop-gap deal would fund federal agencies at last years levels for 45 days. Democrats were angered over McCarthys impeachment enquiry of Biden, while Republicans, worried about over-spending and aid to Ukraine, and saw his willingness to work with democrats as a violation of their agreement with him to become Speaker.
The annual budget covers three spending areas. Mandatory funding covers half, discretionary spending one third and interest on debt is about 10%. The fiscal year begins in October and congress is required to enact 12 appropriation bills per law, or get a CR (continuing Resolution) to allow lawmakers time.
The economic cost of the last 2018 shutdown was 11 billion and the impact on furloughed government workers and businesses that were not able to recover loans or certificates much more. The stop gap spending deal keeps government working, has no provision for Ukraine, so the Speakers ouster defies logic, especially when Congress has perhaps completed appropriations in time only 4 times in the last 40 years.
Sanctuary cities and the politics of border walls
The unfettered immigration at the US Mexico border has become a concern for all with many talking about how Trump was right to have pushed for a wall to be built. Following the second World War, provisions in the Geneva Refugee Convention were incorporated into US Immigration Law through the Refugee Act 1980.
People arriving at the US Border thus have a right to request asylum without being criminalised, or turned back if they can demonstrate that they are unable or unwilling to return to their country because of persecution. And it is asylum provisions that are being abused. There are apparently scripted videos on digital media that tell immigrants exactly what to say to trigger asylum. Demographics for US Border Patrol (USBP) and the Office of Field Operations (OFO) are that 2.8 million migrants had encounters in 2023.
After the enter the US in Texas, immigrants are put on buses that take them to sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are municipalities that limit or deny cooperation in implementing federal immigration like New York, Chicago, Illinois, and LA. Texas being the border state has attempted to control the problem through its Anti-Sanctuary City Law.
But with the unfettered flow of immigrants, even New York, which has a legal obligation to offer shelter to anyone, has been overwhelmed. This is despite 200 sites having been opened for shelter including hotels and office buildings for the migrants since spring 2022 and rumours of 80-90 persons sharing a bathroom.
There are calls now for a review of the immigration law pertaining to refugees and Asylum seekers, deployment of the National Guard, and the introduction of a merit based points system for immigration. With the Hamas attack on Israel the demand to review the inflow of immigrants from countries inimical to the US and the impact on security of the USA has reached a clamour.
(The writer is a former IRS officer presently in the US. https://twitter.com/punamsidhu)