Dwindling credibility of a superpower

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 2 Apr 2024

By approving a massive new arms deal for Israel that will be used to kill more Palestinians, the US has lost all credibility in our part of the world, writes Hussein Haridy

 

On 25 March, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2728 calling for a Ramadan ceasefire in Gaza, the release of hostages, and a surge in humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip. The resolution passed by 14 votes in favour and the abstention of the United States.

For the last five months since 7 October last year, the Security Council has seen the US, Russia, and China exercising their veto rights as Permanent Members on four ceasefire resolutions. The US has vetoed three, and both Russia and China vetoed a US-sponsored resolution days before the adoption of Resolution 2728.

A statement from the US State Department on 25 March said that amendments to the text of the resolution “have been consistent with [the US] principled position that any ceasefire text must be paired with a text on the release of hostages.” It further said that the US continues “to discuss with partners a pathway to the establishment of a Palestinian state with real security guarantees for Israel to establish long-term peace and security.”

It is now more than ten days after the Security Council adopted the said resolution and the war the Israelis have unleashed, relentlessly and savagely, on Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip is still raging, while the inhuman spectre of widespread famine hovers over Gaza. According to some UN agencies, no fewer than 12 Palestinian children have already passed away because of a lack of food.

The US abstention on Resolution 2728 came in the wake of the sixth tour by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken of the Middle East, where he visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. While in Cairo, Blinken held a meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan, the Emirati minister for Foreign Cooperation, and a representative of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The meeting discussed the then-ongoing negotiations to reach an agreement on a ceasefire in Gaza, the day after the war in Gaza, and the path to the implementation of the two-state solution, an option that the Israeli government and Knesset have previously rejected. The Washington Post on 25 March quoted someone it called “one White House adviser” as saying that the “humanitarian situation [in Gaza] is literally intolerable – it’s a blight on the consciousness of humanity. This kind of thing can’t happen in the modern day and age.”

“It’s the humanitarian situation that has tipped us over the line into open confrontation with Israel,” he said.

However, one serious difference between the US administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains the Israeli plan to stage a major ground incursion into Rafah at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. The US believes that Israel could destroy the remaining four Hamas battalions in Rafah through targeted operations instead of through the original Israeli plan that would pose a deadly threat to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians sheltering in the Rafah area.

Moreover, the US is worried about the negative impacts of an Israeli ground attack in the southern part of Gaza along the Egyptian border on Egyptian-Israeli relations after repeated warnings by the Egyptian government that such an attack would have “serious consequences” without elaborating what these might be.

In his remarks to reporters after his meeting with Netanyahu on the last leg of his seventh visit to Israel since last October Blinken stressed the position of the US administration that there are other alternatives besides a direct military assault on Rafah that could achieve the “complete defeat” of Hamas as envisioned by the Israeli War Cabinet.

He pointed out that a “major military ground operation isn’t the way to do it [in order to ensure] long-term security for Israel.”

In the meantime, an unnamed senior US official in remarks to the Israeli media said that the US has been in contact with the Egyptian government in order to draw up the “necessary infrastructure” to stop “smuggling” across Egypt’s borders with the Gaza Strip. The US administration believes this would prove more “important” and more “effective” than other measures, and he cautioned that an Israeli ground incursion in Rafah would render cooperation between Egypt and Israel to secure the Philadelphia Corridor that runs along the border a lot more difficult.

In an unexpected rebuff of Blinken, Netanyahu told the Israeli public that if Israel has to go into Rafah on its own without US help, he will not hesitate to do so. “I hope we will do it with the support of the US. But if we must, we will do it alone,” he said. The game Netanyahu has been playing for the last month and a half with the Biden administration has been to act like a tough guy capable of withstanding US pressure and saying no to the US president.

You would be forgiven for believing that US-Israeli relations over the last few weeks, in particular after the US decided not to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2728, have been heading for a dead end. However, the facts on the ground tell a different and a sadder story of a superpower that has not formulated a credible and sustainable policy towards the annihilation that Israel is wreaking on innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza and how to manage the post-war regional dynamics in the Middle East as far as the Palestinian question is concerned and the future of Arab-Israeli relations.

The same day that the US was abstaining from vetoing Resolution 2728, Israeli Minister of Defence Yaov Gallant was holding talks with his US counterpart Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. Gallant arrived in Washington with a shopping list of US munitions and fighter planes including F-15s and F-35s.

If anyone expected that the US would pause, even for a brief period of say three to six months, the delivery of instruments of death, annihilation, and mayhem in Gaza to Israel as part of a message of deterrence, then they would have been hugely disappointed. Despite all the American talk of “empathy” with the Palestinian dead and wounded that have now numbered more than 100,000 and counting, and in a holy month for more than one billion Muslims around the world, the Biden administration, through its approval of the new arms deal for Israel presented by Gallant, one that includes smart bombs and 2,000 pound bombs, has lost credibility and moral authority in our part of the world.

The death and destruction that the US-made fighter jets have been raining down on more than two million defenceless Palestinians cannot be seen as an act of self-defence on Israel’s part. Instead, it is part of a deliberate plan of extermination and annihilation of the Palestinian people.

The international rights groups Oxfam and Human Rights Watch issued a report two weeks ago calling on the Biden administration to adhere to US laws and suspend arms transfers to Israel on the grounds that Israeli assurances that it is not contravening international law cannot be taken seriously. In refusing to suspend such arms transfers, the Biden Administration cannot absolve itself of direct responsibility for the killing fields of Gaza.

I am afraid that the US has deliberately sided with the true aggressor, the true peace-wrecker, that is Israel, and as a consequence it has lost credibility as a superpower that has kept on talking over the past three and half years of a “rules-based international order.”

 

The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

 

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