In the case of the Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes notices the guard dog didn’t bark on the night a famous racehorse was stolen, and he solves the crime when he deduces the dog must have known the thief.
Most readers missed that clue because they were looking only for things that had happened. Holmes knew it was just as important to notice what had not happened.
We’re in one of those moments now in Gaza. It’s not what is happening, it’s what is not happening that is important.
In all previous Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, the Arab states have come down vociferously and vigorously on the side of Palestinians, and against Israel.
They bark loudly.
This time is different.
There's no barking. There has been a deafening silence from the moderate Sunni Arab states of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Kuwait. They’re not going as far as to publicly criticize Hamas, but they’re not criticizing Israel, either.
That is significant and may be a silver lining in the dark cloud that seems to hang permanently over the Levant. The moderate Sunni states have not joined the chorus condemning Israel this time, because they think Hamas and its fellow travelers of radical jihadists present a far greater risk to them than Israel.
The Arab Spring ushered in an era of chaos into which terrorists, radicals and extremists have taken hold. The traditional Arab states, the moderate Sunnis, worry the chaos will engulf them next.
There are early signs of a shift in allegiances in the Arab world, with the moderate Sunni states lining up with Israel against the witches’ brew of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and their sponsors in Iran and Qatar.
So why do we care what happens in a part of the world which has been at war with itself in one form or another for two millennia? Because it provides an opening for a new alignment in the Middle East away from the historic fights of Arabs against Jews and Shiites against Sunnis. And that matters to Americans because we really do have enemies in the region – not because they are this religion or that, but because they’re radical extremists who want to destroy our way of life and are willing to use any means necessary to do it.
Our real enemies in the Middle East are not the people who want to kill each other, it’s the people who want to kill us.
But this new coalition isn’t going to happen on its own. It needs an honest broker, and the U.S. is the only one that can play that role. It’s an opportunity Secretary of State John Kerry should seize.
So far, Kerry has been a man in search of greatness, flitting around the Middle East trying to make historic peace between Israel and the Palestinians, standing up for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or, most recently, trying to get a Gaza cease-fire. He’s been met with failure and humiliation.
Forget trying to broker a peace between Hamas and Israel. Hamas’ founding charter, its very reason for being, is to destroy Israel. For Hamas, any cease-fire will merely be a pause while it rearms to fight again a year or so from now.
But the current round in the Hamas-Palestinian conflict has exposed the fault line between moderate Sunni states and the more radical Sunnis. For over a decade the world has asked, “Where are the moderate Muslims? Why don’t they speak up against radical Islam?” They haven’t been ready to do so for the last 10 years, but the failures of the Arab Spring and the rise of even more radical jihadists of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula have changed everything.
The moderate Arabs are terrified that ISIS is coming for them next. The calculation of moderate Arab states has now changed – they may not like Israel and would prefer it didn’t exist, but it doesn’t present a threat to their very existence. ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood do. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted this and spoke of “the unique link which has been forged with the states of the region,” which opens “new possibilities.” What he meant was that Israel may find common cause with the moderate Arab states.
So, Secretary Kerry, seize the moment and head back to the Middle East.
Go on an intensive listening tour. Sit in the tents of Saudi princes and listen to their fears that radical Islam will spread to their own countries, and to their concern about the security of their oil facilities.
Sit with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and hear him talk about the political risks he is willing to take to jump-start the Egyptian economy and the worries he has of prolonged political instability.
Let the Egyptian generals pull out their maps of the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt and show you how Al Qaeda has slipped through them to set up strongholds in the Sinai Peninsula. Let their businessmen and ministers brief you on their train wreck of an economy.
Then go to Israel and bite your tongue. You may not like Prime Minister Netanyahu and he may not like you, but he’s a practical man. Get a briefing on the tunnels, and listen to him complain that it’s impossible to negotiate with a group like Hamas whose sole goal is Israel’s destruction.
Then take out your checkbook where necessary and fast-track delivery of American military equipment where needed.
Stop second-guessing these leaders in public, and stop lecturing everyone from Sissi to Netanyahu that you know what is in their best interests better than they do.
Nobody is asking for American boots on the ground, but they need American diplomacy to help them do the right thing, and American military and economic assistance to ease their passage.
You, and only you, can broker a new coalition among those moderate Sunni Arab states, Israel and the United States. The United States, and only the United States, has the power, prestige and proven track record of previous administrations to broker peace.
Mr. Kerry, this is your moment to stand up to radical Islam in a way neither former President Bush nor President Obama so far has been willing or able to do.
This opportunity will not come again. If you fail to step up to the task, or prove unable to do it, the Middle East faces a generation of warfare between Sunnis and Shiites, between radicals and moderates, between Arab oil rich and poor, with Israel caught in the middle.
This matters to America because it’s a conflict that won’t just stay in their neighborhood.