Strategic stalemate in the Middle East

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 23 Apr 2024

Is the US an ally, partner, or adversary of Egyptian, Palestinian, and Arab interests in the Middle East region, asks Hussein Haridy


After Iran launched the 300 drones and cruise and ballistic missiles against Israel on 13 April, the question was how and when would Israel retaliate. Israel’s leaders left no doubt that the country would need to restore “deterrence” after the unprecedented and daring Iranian attack on its territory.

The US administration was worried that Israel could initiate a massive attack on Iran that would drag the whole Middle East into a regional military confrontation with incalculable consequences for all the parties concerned. 

US President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the Iranian attack and expressed his belief that the downing of 99 per cent of the drones and missiles and the effectiveness of a regional anti-missile system planned and managed under US Central Command should be considered a “win” for Israel. This was his attempt to talk the Israeli leader out of launching a devastating attack against Iranian military targets, in particular its nuclear infrastructure.

The expected Israeli retaliation took place late on 18 April and early on 19 April and targeted a military base near the Iranian city of Isfahan not far from Iran’s main nuclear plant. Thus, the Israelis obliged, to a certain extent, the US administration, while at the same time relaying an unmistakable message to Iran’s leaders that Israel has the deterrent power and military capabilities to wreak havoc inside Iran, especially on Iranian nuclear facilities, should it wish to do so.

The attacks and counterattacks between Iran and Israel have put the US front and centre in the Middle East. After a decade of pivoting towards Asia and ending what the Americans have called the “forever wars” in the Middle East region, the US has become the indispensable arbiter of war and peace in the region. Whether this administration or the next after the US presidential elections in November will succeed in averting a regional war and then push for a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian question remains in doubt.

On 15 April, columnist Walter Russell Mead wrote an article in the US newspaper the Wall Street Journal headlined “Israel Shouldn’t Take the Win Against Iran.” In it, he argued that Israel should not be bound by the talk of “winning” put forward by Biden and that if Washington “hopes to step back from a frontline role in the region, it must foster an alliance that can check Iran’ s unrelenting and fanatical drive for hegemony across the Middle East.”

He said that the reason why “Team Biden” had reversed “dramatically” its initial “pariah” approach to Saudi Arabia and started borrowing some of the “core” concepts of the so-called Abraham Accords associated with the previous Trump administration was its promotion of an Israeli-Saudi alliance as a pillar of its Middle Eastern strategy. Mead ignored the Palestinian question completely in his analysis, along with the inconclusive and elusive Israeli search for restoring its lost “deterrence” after the 7 October attacks last year and the Iranian missiles offensive on 13 April.

In the meantime, the Israelis have kept on pounding the Gaza Strip while exchanging fire with Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon. At the time of writing, the number of innocent Palestinian civilians killed by the Israeli army in Gaza has reached more than 34,000 and the number of the wounded more than 72,000.

On 20 April, the US House of Representatives voted to provide Israel with $26 billion in aid. The vote was one among four back-to-back votes for a National Security Package worth $95 billion in foreign aid to Ukraine ($60 billion), Israel, and Taiwan ($8 billion).

 It is worth noting that the vote for Israel garnered 366 votes for and 58 against, whereas those who voted for the aid to Ukraine numbered 311 for to 112 against. Apparently, the number of the dead and wounded plus the massive destruction in Gaza did not prompt a second thought among House members in approving such aid to Israel even while its army has been subjecting the Gaza Strip to a campaign of premeditated annihilation over the past seven months. 

The above goes to show that the Middle East strategy of the US does not serve the national interests of the Palestinians or the Arab world.

It was no coincidence that one day after the voting of the National Security Package, Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli War Cabinet, said that Israel has not yet achieved its military objectives in its war in Gaza, even as the war, at the time of his statement, was in its 198th day. The “moment of truth” in South Lebanon was getting “nearer” by the day, he said.

What is obvious after the last seven months of war is that the objectives of the US-Israeli strategic and military alliance in the Middle East have nothing to do with retaliation against the 7 October attacks last year. Instead, they have everything to do with redrawing the geopolitics of the Middle East to benefit the national security interests of Israel.

In a statement after the voting, Biden said that “today members of both parties in the House voted to advance our national security interests and send a clear message about the power of American leadership on the world stage.” He added that “at this critical inflection point, they came together to answer history’s call. This package will deliver critical support to Israel… It comes at a moment of grave urgency, with Israel facing unprecedented attacks from Iran.” 

There were dissenting voices among the House members. Thirty seven Democrats opposed the aid package to Israel because they believed the legislation placed no conditions on how it could use the US funding. Another objective and fair opinion was that of Representative Jonathan Jackson (Democrat-Illinois), quoted in the New York Times on 21 April, who said that “sending more weapons to the Netanyahu government will make the United States even more responsible for atrocities and the horrific humanitarian crises in Gaza which is now in a season of famine.”

The honourable member spoke the truth. 

The full US support for Israel was also manifested last week by its exercising its veto power against an Algerian-sponsored resolution before the UN Security Council to admit Palestine as a full member of the UN. The move flies in the face of administration statements concerning the two-state solution and its appeals for a ceasefire in Gaza.

With such unequivocal support for Netanyahu’s governing coalition in Israel, it is unlikely that the Middle East will witness in the months to come a return to a period of calm that could herald better days for the region in terms of security and stability. With such US support, Netanyahu can keep on waging his forever wars in order to ensure his political survival and allow for the further annexation of the West Bank.

From an Egyptian, Palestinian, and Arab point of view, the main question in the context of the ongoing strategic stalemate in the Middle East is the following: is the US an ally, a partner, or an adversary allied with the aggressor Israel from day one of its establishment in 1948?

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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