Who Will Open the Next Phase of the War? We are at ‘Pass-the-Parcel’ Time

The Israeli strategy against Hamas in Gaza has been a humiliating failure: Hamas remains generally intact, whereas the Israeli forces have suffered substantial losses of men (and women), plus armored vehicles.

Possibly, we should be saying that the Biden Administration is desperately trying to stem a wider war. The Washington Post reported thus on Sunday — that Biden tasked his staff with preventing all-out war between the Israelis and Hezbollah: “American officials fear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will see intensified fighting in Lebanon as the key to his political survival”, The Washington Post asserts.

But the report was clearly leaked to the media, appearing to be a deliberate move, and so should be treated with due skepticism.

Israeli Security Minister Gallant, whilst saying this weekend that the Israelis’ ‘preferred way’ of ending the fighting with Hezbollah is through diplomacy, nevertheless underlined that they is approaching the moment when the hourglass for solving the problem “will be turned over”. “We are fighting an axis, not a single enemy”, Gallant warned a few days ago.

I should be saying that Biden is acting responsibly to try to prevent a wider war with Hezbollah, but I am not so sure about that. We had recently a concatenation of assassinations: a Hamas leader in Beirut; a very senior Iranian official at his residence just outside Damascus, and Abu Takwa, the head of Kataeb in Baghdad – together with the massacre of civilians at Kerman in Iran.

What a coincidence of massacres… Al-Arouri and Mousawi almost certainly were Israeli provocations, but Abu Takwa was deliberately killed by the Americans. The Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) — of which Kataeb is a part — is an official component of the State forces of Iraq. Is this consistent with stemming wider war? We will be told, of course, that America could not stand idly by whilst attacks on its bases in Iraq and Syria continued.

These attacks, however, are not isolated events but are directly linked to the continuing massacre of civilians in Gaza. Last month, a reporter asked Biden about the chances for a ceasefire in Gaza: “None”, Biden replied; “No possibility”. Biden showed no sign of backing down, Noah Lanard writes; “It would take another month and nearly 8,000 more Palestinian deaths for Biden to criticize Israel in any meaningful way”.

“Much of Biden’s deference to Israel is deeply personal. As his supporters have put it, he identifies with the nation in his kishkes –‘his guts’. That can be seen in the highly emotional and graphic way in which he has talked about victims of the Hamas attack being massacred, sexually assaulted, and taken hostage …

“A former Biden administration official shared a similar perspective with me: “The President does not seem to acknowledge the humanity of all parties affected by this conflict,” this person said. “He has described Israeli suffering in great detail, while Palestinian suffering is left vague – if mentioned at all”.

“The result is that Biden has prioritized providing Israel largely unconditional support and the space to continue fighting in the face of intense international opposition”.

Well, Netanyahu (whom Biden dislikes) is in difficulties. The Israeli strategy against Hamas in Gaza has been a humiliating failure: Hamas remains generally intact, whereas the Israeli forces have suffered substantial losses of men (and women), plus armoured vehicles. Israel’s military campaign had no logic and no clear objectives, aside from revenge. And it has left civilian Gaza as a worsening humanitarian sinkhole.

The Israeli government — and not just Netanyahu — needs a diversion from this failure, in the wake of recent reversals: Hostage negotiations are stuck; there is the ICJ Genocide accusation; the Supreme Court’s striking-down the Knesset overturn of the judicial ‘reasonableness clause’, but above all, Hamas remains undefeated; the West Bank is on a knife-edge, and Israelis are unable to return home to the north because Hezbollah has made it a ‘no go zone’ for its former residents.

Biden probably ‘gets that’. He knows too that the trauma of what happened on 7 October shifted Israeli society decidedly to the Right. It made them question the most basic tenets of whether they were safe in their homes. Many on the Right and some on the Left saw 7 October as proof that peace with the Palestinians is impossible”. Sentiment has darkened to the unnerving layers of existential fear. ‘They stormed out of Gaza to kill us’; ‘Gaza must be annihilated’ is a common riposte.

Put succinctly, Israelis — not just Netanyahu — yearn for the catharsis of military victory. Biden will be wary of war with Iran, but are he and other militaristic US factions truly putting the brakes on the Israelis?  Late last week Senator Lindsay Graham was meeting with Netanyahu. What message did he relay, and on behalf of whom?

The Washington Post says the White House is desperately seeking to prevent war with Hezbollah, yet was this leak really more about inoculating the US Administration from the consequences of a coming conflict with Hezbollah?

Many see wider war to be inevitable — a matter only of ‘when’. But none want to be held accountable as the party triggering war. Certainly, a ‘narrative of restraint’ fits with US electoral needs. But neither Hezbollah nor Iran wishes to be held responsible for its outbreak.

For now, initiating the next stage is akin to the childrens’ game of pass the parcel — no one wants to be holding it when the music stops. Who then has the most ‘strategic patience’?  Well, not Netanyahu, and not the fevered “Israel”.

“In one early interview Biden explained whilst running for office, [he] rejected the suggestion that the United States should develop a more neutral posture toward Israel. “In my 34-year career, I have never wavered from the notion that the only time progress has ever been made in the Middle East is when the Arab nations have known that there is no daylight between us and Israel”.

In other words — Noah Lanard relates Professor Rashid Khalidi highlighting — “only when the Arabs understand that they have to accept whatever it is the Israelis are willing to offer will there be peace.” Professor Khalidi continued, “I think that fairly represents [Biden’s] position to this day. I honestly don’t think this man has any sense that there’s another side to this”.


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