On the precipice: The US pushes allies towards a Middle East war

Jan 30, 2024
March for Israel, Washington, DC USA

Netanyahu and his supporters in Washington are playing for very high and dangerous stakes indeed as the Middle East war threatens to widen beyond Gaza.

I will try in this unavoidably long essay to draw together the main political-military threads of the now very tangled situation across the Middle East, with the Gaza war as its linchpin. I have assembled the following facts and propositions in roughly logical and chronological sequence and I have kept URL links to the minimum for readability.

1. The Gaza Palestinian resistance has proven far stronger and more resolute than the Netanyahu government would have expected when launching its major IDF offensive on Gaza, after the 7 October HAMAS hostage-taking incursion into Israel. Seriously underestimating the Gazan people’s discipline and courage under ferocious attack, stiffened by their HAMAS civil administration, Netanyahu’s war cabinet had expected a panic-stricken Gadarene rush of most of the population southwards, overwhelming Egyptian border security by the sheer weight of millions of terrified people flooding into Egyptian Sinai: thereby quickly emptying Gaza and enabling Israel permanently to occupy, rebuild and repopulate Gaza as a valuable new Israeli city. In short, a second Nakba.

I cannot prove this was an initial major Israeli war aim. I deduce it from the circumstantial evidence around those earlier weeks of the war.

2. In those weeks, the world became increasingly horrified by two things:

a. the consistent hatefulness of Netanyahu senior ministers’ official war rhetoric in the earlier weeks of war after October 7, which I argue was intended both to toughen IDF and Israeli society’s resolve to pursue the war in Gaza without mercy, and to terrify Gazans into fleeing en masse to Egypt. The many examples of such extreme war rhetoric apart from Netanyahu himself include Defence Minister Yoav Gallant (‘Israel declares siege of Gaza as Hamas threatens to start killing hostages’, The Guardian 10 October 2023), National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and President Isaac Herzog.

b. the ruthless way the IDF is conducting this war, involving mass indiscriminate bombings and tank fire against civilian housing, targeting of hospitals, national heritage and places of worship, torture and humiliation of Palestinian male civilians, sniper shootings of civilian men women and children trying to flee or simply walk to ‘safer’ areas (though no area in Gaza is safe), deliberate blocking of humanitarian relief trucks to cause preventable starvation and disease, targeted killings of journalists and UN relief workers. All this is an attempt to make Gaza unliveable. It continues.

3. Israel‘s reputation in the world has collapsed. Important in this was the well-presented South African case alleging Israeli genocide in Gaza on which ICJ judges must deliver the Court’s interim ruling before the judges’ panel rotates on 31 January. Israel fears the ICJ may support the allegation of Israeli genocidal intent and practice. Israeli Government anti-Palestinian rhetoric has become quieter in recent weeks. Israel claims it has moved the war in Gaza to a lower tempo and reduced troop numbers there. However the IDF continues seriously to violate human rights every day (The ICJ ruling has now issued).

4. In the world outside the US and its allies, especially in the Arab world, Israeli actions in Gaza have united most governments and peoples to condemn Israel and its main military supporter the US. Even in the West whose governments continue to support Israel in whole or in part, there are ongoing massive public demonstrations in capitals against Israeli cruelty in Gaza. The powerful Zionist lobbies in the West are on the back foot and lashing out in self-damaging ways, e.g., an Australian Jewish lawyers’ orchestrated campaign to have ABC journalist Antoinette Lattouf sacked on specious grounds.

5. As of now, there is a kind of murderous stalemate in Gaza. It looks like Israel’s war aims to destroy HAMAS and free the 100-plus remaining hostages are unattainable, despite the IDF’s terrible ongoing slaughter of Gazan people. Yet Netanyahu continues to reject any permanent or even temporary ceasefire, until HAMAS rule is eliminated in Gaza. The US and European allies are trying to persuade Netanyahu to moderate this implacable position but so far to no avail.

6. The early broad public consensus in Israel in support of the war is fraying especially over the fate of the Israeli hostages in Gaza. There are now well-founded public concerns about IDF conduct in allegedly deliberately killing Israeli hostages during battle on Oct 7 (under the ‘Hannibal doctrine’). On this, HAMAS has just put out a well-researched paper.

Senior Israeli ex-generals have argued that the aims of eliminating HAMAS and getting the hostages back are irreconcilable; that all the hostages would die in the process. Public activism to get the hostages back spilled over in recent days into a massive near-riot in the Israeli Parliament. More and more Israelis are saying Netanyahu must step down in favour of a more moderate government.

7. It appears that Netanyahu’s political survival strategy may now be to provoke Iran into a wider Middle East war, that would subsume the Gaza conflict into a broader war of Israel and its Western allies versus the surrounding Arab region. For the Australian Zionist take on this, see ‘Hezbollah war threatens as Gaza war declines’ 24 Jan, 2024.

8. There has been a bewildering sequence of strikes and counter-strikes, targeted assassinations of Iranian security leaders, and various other missile attacks, in recent weeks. These have involved Iran and its proxies Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, and various incidents in Iraq and even in Iran itself.

9. It began with an outrageous terrorist attack using suitcase bombs on 4 January 2024, on a mostly civilian memorial service for Iranian war hero the late General Qassem Soleimani in an Iranian city, Kerman. Around 100 people were killed and 200 injured. Iran claimed the attack was the work of Israeli and American operatives and vowed revenge at times and places of its choosing. America denied this, claiming Islamic State anti-Iranian terrorists were most likely responsible.

There followed in apparent retaliation an Iranian strike on 17 January on an alleged Israeli ‘espionage headquarters’ in the city of Erbil, in Iraq’s semi-autonomous US-protected Kurdistan region.

Then on 20 January came a major multiple ballistic missile and rocket attack on the US Al Asad base in western Iraq, allegedly by Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq. This ’larger-scale’ attack caused a few minor injuries in US and Iraqi personnel at the base and ‘some structural damage to noncritical facilities’. The precisely targeted attack showed that Iran or its proxies can target any US bases in the Middle East region, and that US Patriot missile defence systems offer no effective defence.

There have been assassinations and missile killings, Iran alleges Israel-sourced, of senior Iranian security officials working in Syria and Lebanon.

Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon have so far responded steadfastly, declining to be goaded into escalating hostilities against northern Israel. But a large swathe of Israel’s borderlands within 10 km of South Lebanon have been evacuated of civilians by Israel. Israel is reported to be strengthening its military forces in the area.

The Houthis have successfully provoked major and costly Western missile attacks against their widely spread-out and well hidden missile sites in Yemen, which have effectively blocked all Western shipping in the Red Sea to and from the Suez Canal. Only Russian and Chinese flagged vessels are being allowed through without fear of attack. The US announced that it is readying for a long war against the Houthis and seeking support of its allies.

There has also been military activity on the Iran-Pakistan border involving Baluchi militants on both sides. This seems to be contained.

10. To me and to other observers, it looks as if Iran is maintaining escalation dominance: Iran is choosing when, and in what Middle Eastern theatres, and at what levels, to escalate or not to escalate the war Israel and its friends in the US seem determined to provoke. Iranian or Iranian proxy attacks on US bases and Mossad facilities seem carefully modulated to cause minimum loss of US military lives but to send clear deterrent signals of Iranian capability to cause immense damage to thinly spread and inadequately defended US bases and personnel in the Middle East. The latest major attack on the US Al Asad base in Iraq whose Patriot air defence system could not counter is the evidence of this. Iran’s restrained responses to alleged US or Israeli provocations – some very serious – have been noteworthy.

11. It is being argued by some observers (The Duran, Episode 1813, ‘Biden White House prepares another forever war’, @Mercouris @axChristoforou, published 25 Jan 2024 on Twitter X) , that Israel and its supporters ( Duran authors refer to them diplomatically as ‘the neo-cons’) want to create a wider ongoing Middle East war in the months remaining before the US presidential election in November. Fearing a Republican victory under the now strong candidate Donald Trump, they want to lock him into an ongoing Middle East wider war that he would be unable to negotiate the US out of.

12. We are thus closer now than before to a general Middle East war. The US would have no regional allies in such a war apart from Israel – it has lost the Saudis and Gulf States. This fact would hopefully give to even the Neocons in Washington reason to reconsider the folly of what they are trying to do. The Duran authors are pessimistic: the neocons around Biden have a history of doubling down on folly.

13. Netanyahu and his likeminded supporters in Washington are playing for very high and dangerous stakes indeed. Australia should stay out of this powder keg situation.


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