By Arab News
By Maria Maalouf
The war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas represents a serious challenge to the US. It is a difficult test for the network of contacts Washington has been building throughout previous decades to ensure a balance in its interests between Arab countries and Israel.
Obviously the US is failing to achieve this strategic equilibrium in its relationship between the Arabs and the Israelis. There are many accusations by most of the nations of the world, especially Arab and Muslim states, that Washington is endorsing Israel’s attacks against civilians in Gaza. They point to the US supplying Israel with the weapons being used to kill Palestinians in Gaza. They also charge the US with giving $14 billion to Israel to carry on the war, and say that the sending of two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean shields Israel from any armed assault by any power.
Arab media outlets view the US as culpable in the Oct. 7 attack. They also perceive the US as responsible for the military conflagration that the Middle East is undergoing at present. Arab media platforms refuse to believe the US is serious about making peace in the Middle East, and say it is doing nothing to end the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Accordingly, Washington is not an honest broker for peace in the Middle East. Shamefully, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s shuttle diplomacy in the region has been unable to convince the Israeli government to accept a limited cease-fire to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance.
There is also the increase in the number of attacks against US military bases in both Syria and Iraq. The potential is high that there will be more targeting of US military facilities in both countries if the war in Gaza continues. All Arab nations are worried that the Gaza war could escalate into a wider regional crisis. Arabs are hearing the voices coming from the US that perceive the war against Hamas as a war against Iran. The strategic rationale for the Arab nations is that extending the war by attacking Iran could push the whole Middle East into a state of turbulence and chaos, causing a great deal of instability. This will force many people to label the US as the real enemy of the Arabs and Muslims.
Arab countries believe that Israel is acting in a brutal way and that the US is doing nothing to stop it. The Middle East is about to explode. The West is unethical in its attitudes toward the Middle East. It endorses Israel’s savagery against the Palestinians, while pretending it defends human rights and democracy. The Arabs assert that Western hypocrisy about freedom and liberty paved the way for their complicity in Israel’s barbarity toward the Palestinians.
Against the backdrop of Arabs’ loss of faith in the US, Russia is gaining influence in the region. Moscow can tell the peoples of the Middle East that it renounces Israel’s killing of innocent Palestinians and, therefore, is a friend of Arabs and Muslims. Other countries, such as China, can also gain prestige in the Middle East as the US is denounced by the region’s Arab population.
The war in Gaza may revive the two-state solution. However, Arab nations doubt Washington’s sincerity in creating a Palestinian state. They were dismayed by the refusal of the US Congress to give aid to the Palestinians on the grounds that it would go to Hamas. This, of course, was not true.
On the other hand, war is an uncertain development. No war in history has an assured outcome. Hence, any substantial political outcomes must take into account not only US strategic objectives, which include the defense of Israel, but also the local conditions in which the strategy for achieving those objectives must play out. Considering the US failed to effectively define its goals separate from Israel, any analyst must focus on several strategic trends operating now in the Middle East.
First, Turkiye will try to make its role more significant. Ankara and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will express greater solidarity with Hamas. This will strain US-Turkish relations further. Second, the continuation of the Saudi-Iranian detente will be inevitable. The two countries will focus on Gaza and not on their regional rivalry. Third, the role of Qatar most likely will be enhanced. Washington so far has been unable to persuade Qatar to cease its relationship with at least the political wing of Hamas. Qatar will pressure the US to force Israel to stop the war in Gaza in return for its changing relations with the leaders of Hamas.
Fourth, a fair question is how successful and decisive will the Israeli ground offensive be? Israel has not declared victory. It pulled out of previous wars, including conflicts with Lebanese Hezbollah in 1996 and 2006, before finishing its military purposes, due to political and diplomatic factors. Hamas could be hoping for the same outcome. This suggests that the group could still be operating underground and maintaining parts of its military infrastructure when the war ends.
Fifth, how much damage could be caused by several statements by Israeli officials, such as the one attributed to Minister of Heritage Amichai Eliyahu, who said dropping an atomic bomb on Gaza was “a possibility”? This could quickly invite Moscow to affirm nuclear deterrence similar to what happened on Oct. 22-23, 1973 when the US and the Soviet Union raised their nuclear preparedness during the Ramadan War.
Certainly, Arab countries will endorse such a potential nuclear strategic move by the Kremlin. Sixth, how much dispute will occur if Israel takes actions to reoccupy and govern Gaza? This could cause friction between the US and Israel. Blinken played down these prospects. Yet, it seems that Israel is determined to remain in Gaza for a long time. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ABC News that “for an indefinite period, Israel will have the overall security responsibility” for the enclave.
The war in Gaza has seriously undermined US credibility and deterrence. Washington cannot prevail on Israel to hold off the fight in Gaza even for a few hours. In conclusion, the US will not gain any political or strategic advantage from the Gaza war. It could even lose economically if the conflict goes on for a long time and the price of oil rises to a record high.
• Maria Maalouf is a Lebanese journalist, broadcaster, publisher, and writer.