The Gaza Conflict's Threat to Global Stability

Jerusalem with the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Mount of Olives (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

The reality of the necessity of war is permeating widely the consciousness of the Arabic and Islamic world.

Tom Friedman uttered his dire warning in the New York Times on Thursday last:

“I believe that if Israel rushes headlong into Gaza now [unilaterally] to destroy Hamas — it will be making a grave mistake that will be devastating for Israeli interests and American interests”.

“It could trigger a global conflagration and explode the entire pro-American alliance structure that the U.S. has built…I am talking about the Camp David peace treaty, the Oslo peace accords, the Abraham Accords and the possible normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The whole thing could go up in flames.

“Unfortunately, the senior U.S. official told [Friedman], Israeli military leaders are actually more hawkish than the prime minister now. They are red with rage and determined to deliver a blow to Hamas that the whole neighbourhood will never forget”.

Friedman here is talking, of course, about an American alliance system, pivoted around the idea of Israel’s military prowess being invincible – the ‘Little NATO’ paradigm that acts as the essential substrata for the spread of the American-led Rules Order through West Asia.

It is analogous to the substrata of the NATO alliance, whose claimed ‘unchallengeability’ has underpinned U.S. interests in Europe (at least until the Ukraine war).

One Israeli Cabinet member put it to the veteran Israeli defence correspondent Ben Caspit that Israel just cannot permit its long-term deterrence being undermined:

“This is the most important point — ‘our deterrence’”, the senior war Cabinet source said. “The region must quickly understand that whoever harms Israel the way Hamas did, pays a disproportionate price. There is no other way to survive in our neighbourhood than to exact this price now, because many eyes are fixed on us and most of them do not have our best interests at heart”.

In other words, the Israeli ‘paradigm’ hinges on manifesting overwhelming, crushing force directed to any emerging challenge. This has had its origin in the U.S. insistence that Israel have both the political leading-edge (all strategic decisions lay with Israel uniquely under Oslo), and equally, that it has the military cutting leading-edge over all its neighbours too.

Despite being presented as such, this is not a formula by which to reach any sustainable, peaceful accord by which the 1947 UNGA Resolution 181 (the division of Mandate-era Palestine) into two states can be reached. Rather, Israel under the Netanyahu government has been moving closer and closer to an eschatological founding of Israel on the (Biblical) ‘Land of Israel’ – a move that expunges Palestine totally.

It is no coincidence that Netanyahu flourished a map of Israel during his General Assembly address last month in which Israel dominated from the River to the Sea – and Palestine (indeed any Palestinian territory) was non-existent.

Tom Friedman in his NYT reflections may fear that just as NATO’s impaired performance in Ukraine has ruptured ‘the NATO myth’, so too the 7 October Israeli military and intelligence collapse and what happens in its wake in Gaza ‘might explode the entire pro-American alliance structure’ in the Middle East.

The confluence of two such humiliations might break the spine of western primacy. This seems to be the gist to Friedman’s analysis. (He likely is correct).

Hamas has succeeded in smashing the Israel deterrence paradigm: They were not afraid, the IDF proved far from invincible, and the Arab street mobilised as never before (confounding western cynics who laugh at the very notion of there being an ‘Arab Street’).

Well, that is where we are – and the White House is rattled. The Axios CEO VandeHei and Mark Allen have taken to print to warn:

“Never have we talked to so many top government officials who, in private, are so worried … [that] a confluence of crises poses epic concern and historic danger. We don’t like to sound dire. But to sound a siren of clinical, clear-eyed realism: U.S. officials tell us that, inside the White House, this was the heaviest, most chilling week since Joe Biden took office just over 1,000 days ago … Former Defence Secretary Bob Gates tells us America is facing the most crises since World War II ended 78 years ago…

“Not one of the crises can be solved and checked off: All five could spiral into something much bigger … What scares officials is how all five threats could fuse into one”. (Spreading war as Israel enters into Gaza; the Putin-Xi “anti-American alliance”; a “malicious” Iran; “unhinged” Kim Jon Un and fake videos and news).

However, missing from Friedman’s NYT piece is the other side to the coin – for the Israeli paradigm has two sides: the internal sphere, which is separate to the external need to exact a disproportionate price from Israel’s adversaries.

The internal ‘myth’ holds that the Israeli State ‘has its citizens back’, wherever Jews live in Israel and the Occupied Territories – from the remotest settlements, to the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City. This is more than a social contract; rather, it is a spiritual obligation owed to all Jews living in Israel.

This ‘social contract’ of safety however just collapsed. The Kibbutzim in the Gaza envelope are evacuated; twenty kibbuz have been evacuated from the north, and a total of 43 border towns have been evacuated.

Will these displaced families trust the State again? Will they return to the settlements one day? Confidence has been ruptured. Yet, it is not Hizbullah’s missiles that frighten the residents, but the pictures from last 7 October in the Gaza periphery communities – the fence that was breached in dozens of spots; the overrun military bases and posts there; the towns that were occupied by Hamas forces; the ensuing deaths; and the fact that approximately 200 Israelis were abducted to Gaza – has left nothing to the imagination. If Hamas succeeded so, what will stop Hezbollah?

As in the old nursery rhyme: Humpty-Dumpty had a big fall, yet all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

This is what worries the White House Team. They are deeply unconfident that an Israeli invasion of Gaza will put ‘Humpty’ together again. Rather, they fear that events may go badly for the IDF, and further, that the images relayed across the Middle East of Israel using overwhelming force in a civilian urban setting will revolt the Islamic sphere.

In spite of western scepticism, there are signs that this insurrection in the Arab sphere is different, and resembles more the 1916 Arab Revolt that overthrew the Ottoman Empire. It is taking on a distinct ‘edge’ as both Shi’a and Sunni religious authorities state the duty of Muslims to stand with Palestinians. In other words, as the Israeli polity becomes plainly ‘Prophetical’, so the Islamic mood is turning eschatological, in its turn.

That the White House should be floating kites about ‘moderate’ Arab leaders pressing ‘moderate’ Palestinians to form an Israeli-friendly government in Gaza that would displace Hamas and impose security and order shows just how severed is the West from reality. Recall that Mahmoud Abbas, General Sisi and the King of Jordan (some of the region’s most pliable leaders) pointedly refused even to meet with Biden after the latter’s Israel trip.

The anger across the region is real and threatens ‘moderate’ Arab leaders, whose room for manoeuvre is now circumscribed.

So hotspots are proliferating, as are attacks on U.S. deployments around the region. Some in Washington claim to perceive an Iranian hand, and are hoping to expand a window for war with Iran.

The panicked White House is over-reacting – sending huge convoys (100s) of heavy-lift cargo planes loaded with bombs, missiles and air defences (THAAD and Patriot) to Israel but also to the Gulf, Jordan and Cyprus. Special Forces and 2,000 marines are being deployed too. Plus two aircraft carriers and their attendant vessels.

The U.S. thus is sending a veritable full-scale war Armada. This can only escalate tensions – and provoke counter-moves: Russia now is deploying on Black Sea patrol, MiG-31 aircraft equipped with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles (that can reach the U.S. carrier force off Cyprus), and China reportedly has dispatched naval vessels to the area. China, Russia, Iran and Gulf States are engaged in a frenzy of diplomacy to contain the conflict, even were Hizbullah to enter deeper into the conflict.

For the moment, there is focus on hostage releases creating much (deliberate) noise and confusion. Perhaps some expect that hopes of hostage releases may delay, and finally bring to a stop the planned invasion into Gaza. However, the military command in Israel, and the public, are insistent that Hamas must be destroyed (as soon as the U.S. vessels and new air defences are positioned).

Be that (the invasion) as it may, the reality is that Hamas’ Qassam Brigades have shattered both the internal and external paradigms of Israel. Depending on the outcome of the war in Gaza/Israel, the Brigades may yet land a further contusion on the body-politic that “triggers a global conflagration – and explodes the entire pro-American alliance structure that the U.S. has built” (in Tom Friedman’s words).

Should Israel enter Gaza (and Israel may decide it has no choice but to launch a ground operation, given the domestic political dynamics and public sentiment), it is likely that Hizbullah will incrementally be drawn further in, leaving the U.S. with the binary option of seeing Israel defeated, or launching a major war in which all the hotspots become fused ‘as one’.

In a sense, the Israeli-Islamic conflict now may only be resolved in this kinetic way. All efforts since 1947 have seen the divide only deepen. The reality of the necessity of war is permeating widely the consciousness of the Arabic and Islamic world.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat, founder and director of the Beirut-based Conflicts Forum.

( Source: Strategic Culture Foundation, with republishing permission granted. )

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