JERUSALEM — Amos Guiora was on a Zoom call about 48 hours ago when the Iron Dome air defense system sirens started blaring near his home six miles outside Jerusalem.
Soon after, the University of Utah law professor heard the missiles heading for the city.
“There were 40 rockets fired toward Jerusalem. They didn’t get to Jerusalem,” he said. “I think the furthest one, literally, was five minutes from our house. I heard the explosion.”
In the worst flare-up of violence in seven years, Israel launched airstrikes and Palestinian militants launched hundreds of missiles overnight into Wednesday, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds more amid rising fears the conflict could spiral into all-out war, according to NBC News.
What started as a week of tense clashes in Jerusalem has escalated into violent unrest on the streets of Arab Israeli towns, as well as a deadly aerial conflict. More than 1,000 rockets lit up the skies of Israeli cities, while at least two high-rise buildings were leveled in the Israeli bombardment of the blockaded and impoverished Gaza Strip, home to 2 million Palestinians.
Guiora, who splits his time between Utah and Jerusalem, said the obvious question now for the Israeli government is whether to send tanks and ground troops into Gaza.
“I would certainly hope that the answer to that is no,” he said. “I don’t think anyone in their right mind wants Israeli soldiers going into Gaza. That would be horrible, horrible, horrible.”
On the other hand, he said no government can or should tolerate the hundreds of rockets fired into the country the past two days.
“What steps can you take to put this round of fighting to an immediate end? Because at some point it spirals out of control, which is always a scary thing,” he said.
Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, told DW News that Israel and Palestine were on track for another war.
“We’re in a mad rush to full-scale war and it’s a war that neither Hamas nor Israel really wants,” he said. “We’ve seen this movie before in 2014, and that war went on for almost two months with hundreds and hundreds of casualties.”
The Biden administration on Wednesday dispatched a State Department official to join the de-escalation efforts.
Even as President Joe Biden remains publicly silent on the growing violence, a host of factors is complicating matters.
Biden is under pressure not only from Republicans, who are urging more robust backing of Israel, but from progressives in his own party, who have grown increasingly critical of Israel and who hope Biden’s pledge to put human rights at the forefront of his foreign agenda will extend to Palestinians, according to CNN.
“My take on Biden is that the Middle East doesn’t really interest him,” said Guiora.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said in a tweet that Biden “can’t give in to the radical Left’s false equivalency between Israel and Hamas. Israel has every right to defend themselves in the face of terrorist attacks. Social-justice ideology can’t be prioritized over America’s top ally in the Middle East.”
President Biden can’t give in to the radical Left’s false equivalency between Israel and Hamas. Israel has every right to defend themselves in the face of terrorist attacks.
Social-justice ideology can’t be prioritized over America’s top ally in the Middle East.
— Rep. Chris Stewart (@RepChrisStewart) May 12, 2021
Guiora, a former Israeli Defense Forces officer and a legal advisor to the Gaza Strip, said he doesn’t believe the U.S. can play a direct role in quelling the current conflict.
Biden does not have the relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that former President Donald Trump had, he said. Also, the U.S. obviously has no relationship with the Hamas militant group behind the attacks.
“At the moment, there really is no real external restrainer or restraint on this conflict,” Guiora said.
Biden could exert pressure on Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and maybe Turkey to exert pressure to act as indirect mediators because Israel and Hamas won’t sit down together, he said. Biden’s recognition of Armenian genocide, though, complicated the U.S. relationship with Turkey, he said.
“My sense is Hamas feels emboldened. I would think from Hamas’ perspective there is no reason to call off the dogs yet,” Guiora said. “I don’t really think anybody can predict when this round will end and how this round will end. I don’t see, absent those four countries, someone who can pressure Hamas and/or Netanyahu to stop. That’s the problem at the moment.”