The US Quandary Over Gaza

Despite the massive show of force off the waters of Israel, the Biden Administration is profoundly uneasy about any escalation of the conflict into a wider war, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken prepares to board his plane at Joint Base Andrews in Camp Springs, Maryland to Israel and Jordan on October 11, 2023. (Official State Department photo by Chuck Kennedy/Public Domain)

By M.K. Bhadrakumar
Indian Punchline

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s press conference on Thursday concluding his visit to Israel conveyed three things.

One, the Biden Administration will be seen as backing Israel to the hilt by way of meeting its security needs but Washington will not be drawn into the forthcoming Gaza operations except to arrange exit routes in the south for hapless civilians fleeing the conflict zone. 

Two, Washington’s top priority at the moment is on engaging with the regional states who wield influence with Hamas to negotiate the hostage issue. Fourteen U.S. citizens in Israel remain unaccounted for. (White House confirmed that the death toll in the fighting now includes at least 27 Americans.) 

Three, the U.S. will coordinate with the regional states to prevent any escalation in the situation to widen the conflict on the part of Hezbollah. Although the U.S. cannot and will not stop Israeli leadership on its tracks apropos the imminent Gaza operation, it remains unconvinced.

Blinken was non-committal about any direct U.S. military involvement, and the chances are slim as things stand. Most important, even as Blinken could hear the war drums, he also cast his eye on a future for Israel (and the region) where it will be at peace with itself, would integrate into the region and concentrate on creating economic prosperity — metaphorically put, beating its swords into plowshares in a Biblical Messianic intent. 

[UPDATE: Blinken says Egypt will open its gate with Gaza to allow in relief.]

US Uneasy About Wider War

That is to say, despite the massive show of force off the waters of Israel, with the deployment of two aircraft carriers along with destroyers and other naval assets and fighter jets off the waters of Israel, the Biden Administration is profoundly uneasy about any escalation of the conflict into a wider war. If the U.S. senses that this is a catastrophe that Israel allowed to happen, that remains a strictly private thought.

Even as Blinken was heading for Tel Aviv, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul told reporters in Washington on Wednesday following a closed-door intelligence briefing that “We know that Egypt has warned the Israelis three days prior that an event like this could happen. I don’t want to get too much into classified, but a warning was given. I think the question was at what level.”

Shortly after McCaul spoke to reporters in Washington, an anonymous Egyptian official confirmed to The Times of Israel that Cairo’s agents did warn their Israeli counterparts about a planned Hamas attack, but that this warning may not have made it to Netanyahu’s office. 

These disclosures would embarrass the Israeli government, as Saturday’s surprise attack can be viewed as a catastrophic failure for Israel’s intelligence services. In a brutally frank statement on Thursday, the Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces General Herzi Halevi admitted, “The IDF is responsible for the security of our nation and its citizens, and we failed to do so on Saturday morning. We will look into it, we will investigate, but now it is time for war.”    

This failure will impact the decision-making in Tel Aviv. Gen. Halevi described Hamas as “animals” and “merciless terrorists who have committed unimaginable acts” against men, women and children. He said that the IDF “understands the magnitude of this time, and the magnitude of the mission that lays on our shoulders.”

“Yahya Sinwar, the ruler of the Gaza Strip, decided on this horrible attack, and therefore he and the entire system under him are dead men,” the general added, vowing to “attack them and dismantle them and their organisation” and that “Gaza will not look the same” afterward.  

[Update: Iran warns Israel through U.N. against ground offensive in Gaza]

U.S. aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford is headed to the eastern Mediterranean. (File photo/U.S. Navy/Flickr)

Blinken Probably Didn’t Try 

Make no mistake, the Israeli objective will be to use overwhelming force with its most advanced weapons, including powerful bunker-busting bombs, to inflict crippling losses on Hamas formations so that the movement cannot wage an armed struggle for many years. A ground operation is to be expected any day. 

It is improbable that Blinken would have even tried to dissuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from going ahead with a brutal operation. He told the media that the U.S. would rather leave it to Israel to do what needed to be done. Meanwhile, the U.S. deployment will not only aim to enhance surveillance, intercept communications, and prevent Hamas from acquiring more weapons, but also act as deterrent. 

That said, the U.S. cannot afford to watch passively. Washington has no choice but to limit the expected fighting in the coming days and weeks in Gaza  to ensure that it does not spread to other areas. Thus, the U.S. force projection specifically serves as a deterrent to Hezbollah, which possesses a vast armoury of 150,000 missiles that can be launched at major cities in Israel, potentially leading to a broader war not only in Gaza but also in Lebanon, drawing others into the conflict. 

Israel knocked out of service the airports in Damascus and Aleppo in Syria in missile strikes simultaneously on Thursday, presumably to prevent reinforcements reaching Lebanon. Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was due to travel to Syria and Lebanon in the weekend.

Through the past four decades, the U.S. and Iran have made a fine art of communicating with each other in dangerous times to set ground rules to avoid confrontation. This time around too, it is happening.

Certainly, the speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday on the conflict situation, which was translated into Hebrew by the Iranians and disseminated in an unprecedented move, conveyed a subtle message in three parts to both Israel and the U.S., signalling essentially that Tehran does not intend to get involved in the conflict. (See my blog Iran warns Israel against its apocalyptic war.) 

In turn, the U.S. has signalled that it has intelligence showing that key Iranian leaders were surprised by the Hamas  attacks on Israel. Equally, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s phone conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday — their first ever conversation which Tehran initiated — harped on efforts to “halt the ongoing escalation.” 

The ‘Known Unknown’ Scenario

Yet, the big question is, how far the Biden Administration would be confident about the success of any Israeli military incursion into Gaza. During the press conference in Tel Aviv, Blinken underscored in a subtle way the importance of “lessons” learnt from past experiences. The point is, Israel will be involved in urban warfare in a densely populated area with a population of 2.1 million people.

Gaza has an average of 5,500 people per sq. km, and there is bound to be heavy civilian casualties caused by Israel’s advanced American weaponry, which would lead to an international outcry, including in Europe, and lead to condemnation of not only Israel but the U.S. as well. However, Israel is in defiant mood and Netanyahu needs at least some of the operation’s goals achieved before agreeing to a ceasefire.

More importantly, Israel needs an exit strategy, if past experiences in Lebanon and Gaza gave any lessons. Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn rule comes into play — ‘You break it, you own it.’

An extended occupation of Gaza will be an extremely dangerous outcome fraught with great risks, given the deep economic, religious, and social roots that Hamas enjoys. Suffice to say, the Israeli military will be hard-pressed to show “success” and head for the exit door.

Besides, if other Palestinian groups and organisations in the West Bank make decisions that advance Hamas’s strategic goals, all bets are off, as Israeli military will face a two-front war. In fact, the conditions for a third intifada do exist in West Bank.

And in such a scenario, the advantage goes to Hamas, which would position itself as potentially the appropriate and perhaps the sole alternative after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is now 87 years old. 

Again, in a worst case scenario, it cannot be ruled out that the Arab Israeli population may draw inspiration from Hamas, and if their violent eruption in 2021 is anything to go by, the long-term viability of the state of Israel will be put to test. 

Suffice to say, the best solution lies in a paradigm shift in the Israeli statecraft away from its primacy on coercion and brutal force. Blinken’s remarks suggested that the U.S. hopes that when the dust settles down, with the helping hand of friendly Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan, a turnaround to calm the situation and reach a ceasefire might be possible. 

Of course, the longer that takes, the greater the strain it will put on the U.S.-Israeli ties and the harder it will become for the Biden Administration to maintain an equilibrium in what is already a troubled relationship with Netanyahu. Fundamentally, Israel needs to come terms with the new reality that they are no longer invincible or the dominant power in the West Asian region.

M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat. He was India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan and Turkey. Views are personal.

This article originally appeared on Indian Punchline.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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27 comments for “The US Quandary Over Gaza

  1. Hans
    October 16, 2023 at 12:16

    As the German army approached the city of Stalingrad, Hitler made another of his big mistakes. He thought he would intimidate the city into submission by launching a mass terror bombing raid with his Luftwaffe.

    What his soldiers then learned the hard way is that rubble makes even better defensive positions than buildings. Oops.
    Taking a city is tough. Taking the rubble that remains from a bombed city is even tougher.

  2. Vera Gottlieb
    October 16, 2023 at 11:22

    From Warsaw Ghetto to Gaza Ghetto…Then Jews…now Palestinians.

  3. Rudy Haugeneder
    October 16, 2023 at 11:07

    The slaves are revolting. Unfortunately, as history shows, most slave revolts were a horrible disaster but, over time, were somewhat victorious, except in places like Haiti where the Black revolutionaries won but were then totally crushed by white Europe and America, a situation that continues to exist and worsen by the day. Will Palestinians become the new Haitians. It’s very likely.

  4. michael888
    October 16, 2023 at 09:02

    “White House confirmed that the death toll in the fighting now includes at least 27 Americans.”

    Israeli Americans? There is a perverse conflict of interest (also notable in Ukraine) in “America” foreign policy, with dual citizens in our State Department and think tanks who do not have US best interests at heart.

    • Hans
      October 16, 2023 at 12:22

      I notice the hyphens when they appear. For instance, in the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, the hyphen was applied. She wasn’t really an American, she was instead hyphenated into a “Palestinian-American”, which really wasn’t the same thing at all therefore Americans had no reason to be upset over her death.

      Now of course, the hyphens are dropped, and the dead are full fledged Americans, even if they held dual citizenship.

  5. Paul Citro
    October 16, 2023 at 06:45

    We look at the horrible crimes and genocides in history and like to think that such things are over, that we are better now. That is delusional. Israel is committing genocide on the Palestinians before our eyes while the world sleeps.

    • Hans
      October 16, 2023 at 12:31

      The world isn’t sleeping. The world is watching.

      The twisted American news will only report this as ‘Americas declining influence’, or that the evil Russians and evil Chinese are making gains in ‘our’ Latin America or ‘our’ Africa. CNN and FOX will both neglect to report that this is the result of people watching genocide and ethnic cleansing occur live, with liars trying say it isn’t so despite the obvious evidence.

      The world is watching. The world is not amused. They just haven’t figured out yet that they have the power to do anything about it. Which is sad since the Emperor bought his expensive New Weapons from the same con-artist who sold the Emperor his New Clothes.

  6. RWilson
    October 15, 2023 at 21:01

    This entire episode is showing starkly how tightly and thoroughly the neocon Zionists can censor the US press and politicians. Vast amounts of evidence of Israel’s long history of terrorism is rigorously ignored, essentially hidden from the American people. Instead the American public is fed lies and indignation.

    The nature of the Zionists is well-described in this article from a Jewish-run website of high quality news and analysis. Beginning with a quote from Biden …
    Acts of sheer evil

    • Hans
      October 16, 2023 at 12:38

      American media is controlled by corporations. The American government is controlled by corporations. Corporations will always seek profit. They do so in a manner that has been described as ‘sociopath’ or ‘psychopath’ behavior. They focus on profit. The rich always see profit in war. The rich never care if the poor die.

      One can explain the entire situation without referring to any -ism besides capitalism.

  7. Robert
    October 15, 2023 at 18:12

    Israel “needs to come to terms with the new reality”

    Putin has said the same thing to Zelinsky and NATO for over a year but unfortunately its not sinking in. Maybe, just maybe the war hawks in Israel will figure it out before they demolish Gaza and then have to ask themselves what happens next.

    The Biden Administration as usual will likely do more harm than good. Blinken, Sullivan, and Vicky live in their own world of arrogance and recklessness. They have convinced themselves that the US can still run roughshod over every country in the world. Well, they are wrong. China is our economic equal. Russia has shown NATO that a NATO/Russia war would be disastrous for all of Europe. And finally the BRICS block is slowly but surely becoming an equal to the US/EU.

    Washington DC needs a big dose of the new reality ….. and soon.

    • RWilson
      October 15, 2023 at 21:11

      Well put.

    • Hans
      October 16, 2023 at 12:41

      The Biden administration would be shocked if they ever mistakenly ‘did good’. And they would then be impeached by a bi-partisan majority of Congress who would scream in horror that any ‘good’ had been done.

  8. dfnslblty
    October 15, 2023 at 16:50

    It is not — repeat NOT — “… his airplane …”
    It is OUR airplane — we are complicit in the genocide in Palestine.
    Every single word out of WashDC is supportive of this genocide — from potus46 on down …
    blinken is not a diplomat — he’s a govt salesman for weapons.

    Stop Wars!
    Stop this genocide!

    • Tim N
      October 16, 2023 at 19:33

      No, it is the US government’s airplane, not mine. Or yours. We have no democracy here. I don’t vote for precisely that reason.

  9. Drew Hunkins
    October 15, 2023 at 16:23

    The likelihood is that Israel was indeed provided credible warnings from Egypt and other Western intel sources.

    However, the Mossad probably knew all of this too. Therefore, the Israeli leadership deliberately somewhat let down its guard knowing something like Hamas’ liberation operation would take place.

    You must understand that Israel is “best” when using force. In other words, it wants nothing to do with entering into legitimate peace negotiations, bc it well knows it won’t fare well; in any peace talks it’s rightfully exposed as a sadistic land-grabbing irrational state.

    Netanyahu and the band of lunatics who currently surround him essentially allowed Hamas’ prison break/slave revolt/liberation operation of last weekend to take place bc they wanted to deal with their “Gaza problem” once and for all.

    Now, we’re on the brink of witnessing the most grotesque and heinous act of our lifetimes. An actual genocide in real time! Why do you think the creepy and violent Zionists cut the electricity to Gaza? So the civilians are unable to display to the world on their cellphones/social media the impending barbarity and Jewish-Zionist bloodletting.

    • RWilson
      October 15, 2023 at 21:08

      According to the Old Testament, when the Jews were about to enter the promised land God instructed them to “leave nothing left alive that breathes.”

      • JPar
        October 16, 2023 at 11:46

        To believers, God also had just given them the 10 commandments one of which is, “Thou shalt not kill.”

        ‘Politicide” by Baruch Kimmerling (anti- Zionist Jew) 2003
        Today, some of Israel’s more characteristic leaders and public figures have explicitly adopted the idea of an ethnic-cleansing policy, waiting only for the proper time to implement it…”

        Quite interestingly, until the beginning of this century, the very occurrence of the 1948 ethnic cleansing was firmly rejected and denied by Israeli leaders, intellectuals and even historians–except for a handful of dissident historians and social scientists who were accused of falsifying Israeli historiography for reasons connected to their anti-Zionist inclinations, self-hate, or search for personal fame

      • Piotr Berman
        October 16, 2023 at 16:51

        Because of many translations and paraphrases, can you help me with book/verse?

        • RWilson
          October 17, 2023 at 02:06

          hxxps:// › verse › en › Deuteronomy 20:16

        • Valerie
          October 17, 2023 at 08:01

          Many people now are talking about Armaggedon so i thought this might be of interest:

          “Armageddon” refers to a term often associated with the end of the world or a cataclysmic event of enormous proportions. The term originates from the New Testament of the Bible, specifically from the Book of Revelation. In Revelation 16:16, it is described as the place of the final battle between the forces of good and evil during the apocalyptic events leading to the end times. “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon“.”

          It is also said from the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the battle to end all battles will be in Har Megiddo. I am not a believer in god as such, but the apocalyptic events relating to climate chaos, do to my mind, herald the end of civilization as we know it. Therefore if these current events continue unabated, we could witness the catalyst in speeding up the destruction of the earth.

    • Robert
      October 16, 2023 at 09:08

      Agree with your statement that “Israel leadership deliberately somewhat let down its guard” in order to “permit” it to proceed with wide scale destruction of Gaza.

      We’ve seen something similar before and recently. In the 10 days prior to the February 24, 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the number of missiles fired from the AFU into the Donbass averaged 10 X “normal”. Zelinsky, no doubt at the request of the Biden Administration, knew exactly what the response would be.

      Netanyahu got what he wanted. Zelinsky got what he wanted. Blinken, Sullivan, and Vicky got what they wanted.

      Problem for all of them is that they got a whole lot more than they wanted.

    • October 16, 2023 at 11:02

      As usual, Drew, you sum it up best. This WAS a “9/11 moment”- in more ways than one. It was programed in advance by the “victim” in order to justify vicious actions in the aftermath. In regard to the Hamas revolt, the word surprise should only be used in “quotes.”

    • Hans
      October 16, 2023 at 12:47

      The situation was so obvious that the Blind would be screaming warnings.

      The mosque in Jerusalem is one of the Holy Sites of all of Islam. It has long been flagged as a flashpoint. The last round of rocket fire in the region two years ago began when the Isrelites were invading the mosque. In the last week, the Israelites invaded that mosque, not once, but twice. Pictures went around the world of bleeding old Arab women being helped after they’d gotten in the way.

      The spies now claim that they gave warning a ‘few days’ in advance. So, this means they saw the videos of the invasions of the Mosque and saw the pictures of the bleeding old women and then warned “Rurrrh-Roooh”. If we paid billions of dollars for such a warning, we should get a refund. Half the middle east was trying to warn us about what was coming.

      Of course there were warnings of the attack. Any fool who wasn’t blind could see it coming. (Viewers of FOX, CNN and MSNBC were of course left blind.)

  10. Caliman
    October 15, 2023 at 16:12

    A great article as always … not in any way represented on the mainstream media’s hatestream currently underway.

    Israel entering Gaza with ground forces sounds like an enormous error, and at the same time appears unavoidable for them, given the objectives they have set out. This just sounds like a next stage of the whole affair … as ye sow, so shall ye reap …

  11. Valerie
    October 15, 2023 at 15:35

    “If the U.S. senses that this is a catastrophe that Israel allowed to happen, that remains a strictly private thought.”

    I wonder if there’s another “strictly private thought”; does the $3.3 bn we give annually to Israel contribute to this?

    (Just my little joke.)

  12. robert e williamson jr
    October 15, 2023 at 15:18

    Respectfully Mr. Bhadrakumar, Biden is not to be relied to show any deference to the Palestinian condition during this genocidal foray into the Gaza Strip he depends to much on AIPAC’s election funding.

    After the Ukrainian debacle and his continued genuflecting to Benny the Blade, one would be mad to think Biden can be relied to do the right thing. The Palestinians don’t have enough money!

    Thanks CN

    • robert e williamson jr
      October 17, 2023 at 11:52

      In this case my being wrong maybe a good thing.

      Joe must already have gotten some of his cash. More likely he has been told he has old ideas and they are all bad ideas. World sentiment is cementing it’s opposition to U.S. policy in the middle east.

Comments are closed.