Bombshell blasts in Beirut, Jerusalem

Robert A. Cohn

By Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

In my 51 years of association with the Jewish Light, I have covered or editorialized countless major events, including the aftermath of the Six-Day War, the successful struggle for Soviet Jewry, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, 9/11 and so many more.  Seldom has there been a more stunning news cycle in which two mega events happened within days of one another:

First, on Aug. 4 the horrific explosion of almost 3,000 pounds of lethal ammonium nitrate negligently stored in a warehouse in Beirut, Lebanon killed at least 177 people and wounded as many as 6,000 people. It also damaged 160,000 homes in the busy port near the densely packed business and hotel district. The explosion set off nationwide protests, which resulted in the resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister and his entire Cabinet.

Several days later, the world learned about the surprise breakthrough in the Middle East with the announcement that the United Arab Emirates will establish full normal diplomatic relations with Israel, becoming only the third Arab nation after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994 to do so. A number of commentators who have been relentless in their attacks on President Donald J. Trump have used his own word — “huge” — for the deal’s importance, praising his role and that of his special adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner for brokering the agreement. 

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To secure the approval of UAE leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahayin, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to “suspend” extending Israeli sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank. Bibi, on trial for alleged corruption and facing protests for a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in Israel gets a needed boost from the UAE deal, which New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman calls a “Geopolitical Earthquake.”

Sadly and predictably, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leaders have rejected the deal out of hand which will only further damage the already forlorn hope for a two-state solution.

The good news is that the PA and Hamas can no longer veto moves like the UAE deal. Other pro-Western Arab states are expected to formalize ties with Israel, including Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and possibly Saudi Arabia. These states no longer regard Israel as an enemy but as an ally against the theocratic regime in Iran.

Indeed Iran and its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon are the biggest geopolitical losers in both the fallout from the explosion in Beirut and the Israel deal with the UAE.  Protests in Beirut have demanded the resignation of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and that Iran stop running Lebanon from afar.  

Jewish organizations from across the spectrum have applauded the historic deal, from the American Jewish Committee to Hadassah, from J Street to the Zionist Organization of America. 

Things can go from good to bad to worse in a blink of an eye in the Middle East, but for the moment hope for progress toward peace can take a victory lap.

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.