The botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is having a far-reaching impact. Some experts say it's fostering a new axis of state-sponsored terrorism, made up of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and the Islamic extremists in Iran and Pakistan. That's creating new threats for their prime target: Israel, and impacting America's strategic position in the Mideast. Scott Thuman has today's cover story from Israel.
Embedded with the Israeli Defense Force in the far north of the country, I sit next to a soldier, automatic weapon at the ready. These idyllic hills, the setting recently for a dangerous escalation.
Lieutenant Colonel Amnon Shefler, Israeli Defense Force: Sadly, Hezbollah continues to roam these areas freely, build their rockets, stockpile them, put them in the houses right next to schools.
Just days before arriving, and for the first time in 15 years, the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, fired 19 rockets into the area, Israel retaliating from the land and sky, their sights set on the islamic extremist military and political group, opposing Israel and western powers operating here.
From the top of Mount Dov, some 3000 feet above sea level, Lieutenant Colonel Amnon Shefler unravels the threat matrix
Lieutenant Colonel Amnon Shefler, Israeli Defense Force:: It has a lot to do with Iran. Iran is the sponsor for Hezbollah. Iran continues to bring these different arms, precision guided missiles know-how and capabilities. and that is something that we're trying to stop.
Flanked by Muslim nations, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Islam is not the majority faith. This nation of 9 million, where nearly 75 percent of the population identifies as Jewish, under constant threat of attack from proxies entrenched in:
Gaza, a Palestinian territory dominated by the militant group Hamas, who aspire to destroy Israel and create an Islamic state in its place.
The West Bank, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, but is also Israeli occupied with scores of Jewish settlements, adding to the conflict.
All of it, intensifying disputes that have also lead to years of Muslim suicide bombings on Jewish targets.
Ever since, the United States has provided Israel with $146 billion dollars in foreign aid, mostly in military support, which in turn, gives the United States real influence and a strategic stronghold in the Middle East, maybe more important than ever after after pulling out of Afghanistan and creating a void terror groups can fill.
Solidifying that partnership, is the United States backed ‘Iron Dome,’ a missile defense system funded by $1.6 billion American taxpayer dollars since its creation, ten years ago, knocking almost 90 percent of militant rockets fired out of the sky.
In Washington, Congress for the first time in years is passionately fighting over U.S. funding to Israel:
Rep. Rashida Tliab: We cannot be talking only about Israelis need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system.
Rep. Ted Deutch: I cannot allow one of my colleagues to stand on the floor of the House of Representatives and label the Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state. I reject it.
As another nation, Iran, continues to open its wallet, here in Israel.
Dr. Michael Milshtein: The Iranians today, their influence is mainly focused on Hamas. They supply the Palestinians money; for example, $10 billion each year to the military wing of Hamas.
Dr. Michael Milshtein, former head of the Israeli mitliary’s Department for Palestinian Affairs explains that Iran advances its ambitions by readily bankrolling militant Palistinians.
Milshtein: You can feed a lot of people in Gaza with this money. You can build a lot of water pipes in Gaza, but today Hamas prefer to build rockets.
Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh: Look, at the end of the day, Hamas is an integral part of the Palestinian political reality. We don't deny that.
I sat down with Palestinan Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, in their capital of Ramallah, where he pushed back against Israeli occupation.
Prime Minister Shtayyeh: The Israelis, they employed quite a number of mechanisms of control against us. Military occupation, settler colonialism, control over water resources, control of our natural resources including land. Even though this is the country where we have 310 days of sun, we are not allowed to build solar energy. As we have been saying about Afghanistan and others, security measures don't solve problems, military measures don't solve problems.
200 miles south of the Golan Heights, I go to Jerusalem, the seat of the Israeli government, where I meet Sharren Haskel, a member of the governing body known as the Knesset, who is sounding the alarm.
Sharren Haskel: We're extremely concerned about Iran. We've seen how they've been expanding in Syria, in Yemen, in Iraq. They're literally attacking the American embassy and American military bases. I mean, you have to be bold and secure to do something like that.
Furthering the concerns now, Iran is said to be within a month of having enough material for a nuclear weapon, prompting President Briden’s call to action.
President Joe Biden: The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.
Biden, under pressure to revive the 2015 controversial Iran nuclear deal brokered under President Obama, but severed by President Trump.
Haskel: There's an international, let's call it, interest, in bringing them to some kind of an agreement. but unfortunately it never works with a violent, aggressive dictatorship. It's never worked, it will not work.
Under President George W Bush, the so-called “Axis of Evil” comprised Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Now, some 20 some years later, there’s a new “axis” of state sponsored terror in the region, of shared interests between the Islamic militant Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and the leadership of U.S. adversaries Pakistan and Iran, some fear the three could align to endanger anyone it calls an enemy.
Scott: So, is that a fair assessment to call this, this other axis of evil in some respects when it comes to terror?
Dr. Matthew Levitt: There is a commonality of purpose there - Pakistanis, Afghanis, Iraqis, Lebanese. Iranian leaders have been very open about their intent to use those foreign fighters.
Dr. Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy just testified before congress on the changing threat of violent extremism.
Levitt: And if you are a country that is on Iran's blacklist like the United States, like Israel, then these militants have got to be a concern for you.
And just days ago, in Washington, a stark warning from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, should Iran not cooperate.
Yair Lapid: There are moments when nations must use force to protect the world from evil. If a terror regime is going to acquire a nuclear weapon we must act. Israel reserves the right to act at any given moment in any way. That is not only our right, it is also our responsibility.
In August, President Biden met with Israel’s new Prime Minister, Neftali Bennett, but wouldn’t commit, in front of the cameras, how far the U.S. is willing to go.
President Joe Biden: We're putting diplomacy first and seeing where that takes us. but if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.
In Nazareth, Amachai Chikli, former Israeli military commander elected to the Knesset, says the next few months will be critical.
Amichai Chikli: Netanyahu andTrump brought Iran on her knees, destroyed their economy, and they made Iran weaker. The nuclear deal that Obama's new ancestors are planning will bring Iran back again as a power.
Scott: Do you think that a biden administration is going to have to be much, much tougher on Iran?
Chikli: When you have a vicious regime, there is no room for being ignorant or being naïve.
Sharyl (on-camera): So do people think that Iran will go back to the negotiating table?
Scott (on-camera): Well, there was some renewed hope with that with a new Iranian president, because they would like to have those U.S.-imposed sanctions removed. But members of Israeli’s government that I spoke to, both current and former, they say that outlook is grim. They believe Iran is more focused on acquiring a nuclear weapon —because that, would give them unparalleled leverage.