Afghanistan and the Lesson Israel Learned a Long Time Ago | Opinion

There is a lot to say about Afghanistan and people are saying it. Some of it is sad, some of it is smart and some of it is totally ridiculous. Let's go with ridiculous for a moment.

The UN, the European Union, the United States and humanitarian organizations—what we generally think of as the "international community"—are making high-handed, cavalier and frankly ludicrous demands for "acceptable" international behavior from the Taliban. The Taliban, on the other hand, believes in killing, maiming and destroying in the name of Islamist ideology. They don't care what the "international community" says, thinks or demands. And yet...

As the Taliban marched toward Kabul, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said, "The Taliban must cease their military operations in cities. Unless all parties return to the negotiating table and reach a peaceful settlement, the already atrocious situation for so many Afghans will become much worse."

Well, "worse" for the Afghan people—especially women and girls—is better for the Taliban's determination that there be no rebellion against their rule. So don't expect much.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken marched right down the same highway. "Ultimately it is in the Taliban's self-interest...if they truly seek acceptance, international recognition; if they want support, if they want sanctions lifted—all of that will require them to uphold basic rights, fundamental rights. If they don't and if they're in a position of power and they don't do that, then I think Afghanistan will become a pariah state."

And if they don't, and Afghanistan becomes a "pariah state" ruled by men with a version of religious law that encourages martyrdom, then what?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), after "commending" President Biden's handling of the Afghanistan debacle, said, "The Taliban must know that the world is watching its actions. We are deeply concerned about reports regarding the Taliban's brutal treatment of all Afghans, especially women and girls. The U.S., the international community and the Afghan government must do everything we can to protect women and girls from inhumane treatment by the Taliban. Any political settlement that the Afghans pursue to avert bloodshed must include having women at the table."

Or else...?

Making demands of people who have different interests and different end-games, as well as the willingness to kill and die for those end-games, is pointless. Meeting adversaries halfway doesn't work with people who take a generational view of victory and believe the deity is on their side. If they don't win, their children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren will win. Bribes will be accepted as tribute, but will produce no change of behavior. There is no halfway for some people.

Taliban fighters stand guard along a street
Taliban fighters stand guard along a street at the Massoud Square in Kabul on August 16, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

Now they know what Israel always knew: Sometimes you can't split the difference.

  • Not between the U.S. and the Taliban, or between the Taliban and Afghans with a different point of view.
  • Not between democratic Israel and Hamas, which hides its rockets inside UN facilities to ensure that a maximum number of Palestinian civilians are killed if Israel defends itself from rockets deliberately launched into Israeli population centers.
  • Not between Israel, with civil and religious protections for all its citizens, and Hezbollah, which manufactures precision-guided missiles and plants them inside people's houses while Lebanon falls deeper into an economic and social crisis.
  • Not between Israel, whose water development programs are appreciated around the world, and Iran, where the mismanagement of water assets has created a desert in previously fertile places while COVID rages uncontrolled—and the government executes an Olympic athlete and tries to kidnap an American journalist from New York. And while Iran defies the "international community" and the U.S. and builds nuclear weapons capability in violation of its "promises."
  • Not between Israel, quick to arrive at the scene of disasters from Florida to Mexico City to Haiti, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which incites murder against Israelis and pays for "successful" outcomes.

Israel has been called intransigent, belligerent and, occasionally, a war criminal. Jerusalem is on the receiving end of the "international community" and its arrogant pronouncements about how it should split the difference with the PA and Hamas. Beginning with the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel has made no fewer than ten multiparty agreements or arrangements with the Palestinians. Billions of dollars and Euros flooded PA coffers while Iran poured its assets into Hamas. It was not enough, apparently, because in 2021, the PA successfully incited violence and Hamas fired 4,600 rockets into Israel.

Israel is not Afghanistan.

While not totally self-reliant (no country is), Israel has made its policy one of managing what it can, where it can and with the soldiers it raises and trains itself. Israel is grateful for American partnership, but it has no illusion that the "international community" will engage to save it.

The Afghan people—like the victims of Syria's Bashar al-Assad, ISIS in the Middle East and increasingly in Africa, Iran's mullahs and their proxies, and China's genocidal policies against its Uyghur and Tibetan people—are now also victims of the "international community" and its haughty platitudes.

It is too late for the Afghans, but the rest of the world should understand the lesson that Israel learned long ago.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.