I wrote last week that the root to the current U.S. conflict with Russia was the omission, at the end of WW2, of a written treaty setting out the boundary and definition of western ‘interests’, and pari passu, those of Russia cum China’s security and commercial interests in the Asian Heartland.
Everything was left vague and unwritten in the post-Cold war euphoria -so as to give the U.S. room to manoeuvre – which it took ‘in spades’. It manoeuvred to remilitarise Germany and to march NATO ever forward towards, and into, the heartland. As many had warned, this U.S. approach ultimately would mean war.
And sure enough, asymmetric ‘war fronts’ have been opened horizontally across many spheres with Russia’s Special Operation in Ukraine. Though ostensibly focussed on stymieing NATO’s stealth absorption of Ukraine, it also opened Russia’s main front – that of containing the NATO debouchment from penetrating further.
Today, all eyes are focussed on the widening ‘war’ in the Middle East. Many questions are asked, but the principal one is ‘Why?’
Here, we find the issues are eerily similar. At the end of WW2, the West wanted its European Jews to have a ‘homeland’, and so in 1947, Palestine was peremptorily divided between Jews and Arabs.
The predominant narrative in the West has been that the travails and wars that segued from that event – particularly today’s confrontation in Israel/Palestine – result simply from Arab States’ perverse inability to come to terms with the existence of the State of Israel. Many in the West see this as irrational at the least – or as a fundamental cultural flaw, at worst.
Well, as was the case in respect to the European post-war military situation, nothing was formally agreed in respect to Jews and Arabs living on the one plot of land. The 1993 Oslo Accords were an attempt at some agreement, but again everything was vague, and the crucially master security ‘key’ to the whole Accord rested wholly at the discretion of the Israelis.
Plainly, this was intended to give Israel maximum room for manoeuvre. More than that, it was intended that Israel should have the strategic ‘edge’ – not just the political ‘edge’, but the U.S. had pledged to ensure that Israel would have the military ‘edge’ over its neighbours too.
Put bluntly, the objective of bringing Arab States to accept Israel’s presence was never pursued, or else it was compelled by military and financial measures (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Iran). Except in the case of Egypt, through returning the Sanai to Cairo. The current iteration of the ‘Abraham normalisation’ (coming to terms with Israel) however, effectively throws the Palestinians ‘under the bus’ for the sake of Saudi compliance to normalization.
Just as NATO surging forward was intended to put Asia under the U.S. sway, so Greater Israeli’s cultural hegemony in the Middle East – it was believed in U.S. Beltway circles – would place the Middle East under western sway also.
What lies behind the present outpouring of Palestinian violent resistance is precisely rooted in a converse understanding to that held in the Beltway.
The converse ‘reality’ is that, over the last decade, Israel has been departing further and further away from the foundations on which any sustainable regional peace might have been built. Israel, perversely, has been moving in the opposite direction – striking down the pillars by which a regional rapprochement might have been possible.
Netanyahu, over the last decade, has taken the Israeli electorate far to the Right, leveraging Iran as the Phantasm by which to frighten the public. (It was not always like that: After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Israel had allied with Iran, against the Arab ‘near neighbourhood’).
Netanyahu also propagated ‘the message’ to his electorate that, thanks to the ‘success’ of the Abraham Accords, the world cares ‘zilch’ for the Palestinians. That they are “yesterday’s news”.
This performance has distracted the western world from understanding fully what radical ministers in Netanyahu’s government have been planning:
One key commitment of Netanyahu’s Cabinet colleagues is to build the Jewish (Third) Temple on Temple Mount, where al-Aqsa Mosque presently stands. Plainly put, this implies a commitment to demolish al-Aqsa and build a Judaic Temple in its stead.
The second key pledge is to found Israel on the biblical ‘Land of Israel’. Again, plainly put, this would dispossess Palestinians in the West Bank; as National Security Minister Ben Gvir made clear, they would face a choice: leave or live under subservience in a Jewish supremacist state.
The third is to institute Jewish law (Halakha) in the stead of secular law. This would divest non-Jews in Israel of their legal status.
Put together – the Judaification of al-Aqsa; the founding of the State upon the biblical ‘Land of Israel’ and the ending of secular Basic law – Palestine and the Palestinian people simply are erased. Three weeks ago, Netanyahu waved a map of Israel as he gave his address at the UN General Assembly; have a look: Gaza and the Palestinian territories do not appear on it at all. They are erased. The situation is as existential as that.
These are the stakes that ultimately underlie Hamas’ military forces’ extreme provocation into Israel. It is intended to break the paradigm (it is not a cry for some kind of return to the Oslo framework).
However, by overreacting, Netanyahu and his team may ‘pull-down the roof’ on the entire western project. Biden doesn’t seem to see the danger lurking within his own exaggeratedly enraged language, comparing Hamas to ISIS and endorsing a “swift decisive and overwhelming” response by Netanyahu. Biden said that it is his belief that Israel had not just a right, but a “duty” to strike back, adding that “the United States has Israel’s back.”
Biden may get more than what he seeks: Tragedy in the form of total retribution visited on Palestinians in Gaza. Netanyahu, trapped by the dynamics of his own fear and vulnerability, acts the part of Dionysus, the God of Excess. And Biden eggs him on.
Just as Team Biden exposed America and NATO to humiliation in Ukraine, so Team Biden seems unable to imagine what might follow from the humiliation of Israel, through its avenging of itself on Gaza. Ukraine brought grave financial corollaries to Europe. In Israel, its intelligence and military structure just imploded. Imagine if the political structure too, becomes dysfunctional.
When the West looks at the situation in purely static instrumental mode (i.e. the IDF is hugely more powerful than Hamas, and therefore, Hamas is destined to be destroyed – ‘It is a matter of engineering’) – should ‘you’ take this view – maybe, you are are posing the question wrongly.
The question to be asked rather, is a dynamic one: How will this dramaturgy proceed over time? In what way might Israel’s putative Gaza war progressively shape the calculations of Hizbullah, Syria and the Muslim sphere – and open political opportunities that were hitherto unavailable.
We can see one opportunity opening directly; listen to what Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says: “On one hand, rumours suggested Biden intended to write a giant one-and-done check for $100B to wash his hands of Ukraine”, but he now very plainly states that: “You don’t want to be trying to bake in long-term support when you’re at the end of the rope”. (Russia can now bring the Ukraine episode to an early close.)
The main purpose of dramatic tragedy is to elicit the feeling of awe to the audience who sees in the tragic hero, an image of his own self. This is what is unfolding as the Islamic world watches Gaza crumble. The (‘quietist’) Grand Ayatollah Seyed al-Sistani has issued a call for the “whole world to stand up to this terrible brutality”. Will the West Bank now erupt? Will the Palestinians living inside the Green Line rise up?
If Israeli forces invade Gaza, it could easily turn into Bakhmut/Artyemovsk – a searing meat-grinder.
Hizbullah is slow-cooking the northern front – carefully, though. Will it be the U.S. this time that overreacts (as in 1983 when the USS New Jersey shelled Druze positions in Lebanon)? Recall how that ended – with the complete destruction of the U.S. embassy, and the separate razing of the Marine barracks, killing 241 U.S. service members. Today, the USS Gerald Ford Strike Group is off Lebanon, ready ‘to deter’ Hizbullah.
So, we must try to view events dynamically, and not just through the literal bubble of today’s distractions: If Netanyahu and Defence Minister Gallant – consumed by the desire to avenge Saturday’s events – overreach, Israel may find itself in existential peril.
Israel is surrounded by tens of thousands of smart missiles and swarm drones. An attack on Hizbullah or Iran constitutes the ‘Red Pill’ for Israel. Will Netayahu, consumed with anger and panic, take a gamble? And if he, Gallant and Gantz reach for the Red Pill, might the roof fall in?
The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.