US Drawbacks in the Face of Israel-Hamas Tensions

Anil Trigunayat

The Biden Administration’s Helplessness

The helplessness on the part of the Biden Administration to contain the ongoing war for over three months has caused accusations of complicity and a loss of credibility among various regional partners.

This is a war of losers, and possibly so is every war nowadays, as they don’t swiftly conclude and tend to defy all standard postulates. As such, wars are being launched for expansion of territory and influence, to enforce politico-military superiority and influence, to support an alliance partner, and for revenge and retribution, which may or may not serve geopolitical or geoeconomic objectives. But unfortunately, the only thing that is assured is destruction and humanitarian disaster.

Wars of Today: Unconventional Dynamics and Humanitarian Consequences

This over-three-month-old ongoing Israel-Hamas war has witnessed many firsts, but not many of them might be flattering to the warring sides. Terror attacks by Hamas on October 7 against Israeli civilians were unprecedented in scope and scale and perhaps went beyond their own expectations being compared to a dozen 9/11s.

They may have achieved certain objectives but at what cost knowing too well that fury and might of Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and that of Hawkish Netanyahu will bring unprecedented death and destruction to Gazans and Palestinians. When the dust settles down both sides will face searching and uncomfortable questions on strategic lapses. Netanyahu is yet to achieve his singular objective of destroying Hamas, with which he was in a truck once.

Regional countries lost as they were not able to take a decisive course of action to prevent unprecedented civilian casualties which some of them and others call ‘genocide’ and South Africa and Malaysia have gone to International Court of Justice against Israel. Clearly they were unable to largely differentiate between their utter dislike of Hamas and disproportionate mayhem caused by Israeli bombings. A house divided leads to its destruction.

Israel has also lost a great deal as it not only did not achieve its military objectives but its myth of invincibility has been busted despite tremendous superiority. It also lost a great deal on regional and international sympathy and budding friendships with regional majors whose leaders were moving to normalise ties despite or perhaps due to the waning importance of the Palestinian cause in their strategic calculations.

In fact, President Biden warned Netanyahu that he was losing international support, which was also a headache for the American foreign policy establishment. Abraham Accords, I2U2, and IMEC are all on the backburner for fear of the ire of the Arab street, which has been recharged due to the continued spate of killings of hapless women and children. But Bibi is sitting on a lion for as long as he can, since the moment he comes down, his political fate is unknown as the 130 hostages await their release.

Russia and China have also not acquitted themselves creditably, even though furtive, unimplementable statements and paper tiger resolutions flew around with alacrity from condemnation to quietude, with verbosity galore as usual but maintaining eventual ambivalence. Moscow may have benefited somewhat from the US distraction, as is evident from the Zelenskyy tirades in Western capitals. But they may have also lost their dependency quotient, which both Moscow and Beijing are trying to project in the region.

Emerging and leading powers like India also adopted a wait and watch approach even though at the UNGA and BRICS and bilaterally right messaging was conveyed seeking end of the conflict and humanitarian assistance was provided promptly to Gazans.

We are not living an era of swift wars. Today they impact everyone. Irony is that if a superpower is involved in a war, others become only a limiting factor. However, only the redeeming outcome of this terrible war and sequence could emerge, if there is a move forward for a solution to this age-old Palestinian issue as the “Day After” scenario unfolds. Now, the Arab countries and leaders would find it difficult to settle for anything less than a viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.

Global Impact and the Erosion of Multilateralism

The worst casualty in this and the Russia-Ukraine war has been the much-lauded multilateralism. The helplessness of the UN and Antonio Guterres has merely led to hopelessness. One can’t even say that the King is dead; long live the King. Dysfunctional global order and governance have definitely led the way to disorder and Jungle Raj with dire consequences, as the fear of the West Asian war expanding to other horizons is clear and present.

The US maintained a singular objective of supporting fully and unconditionally its all-weather ally, Israel, for its geostrategic as well as equally important ideological and domestic compulsions and considerations, while hoping and working on preventing the war from expanding as Houthis, Hezbollah, and Iran extend support to Hamas and Palestinians, complicating the uncertainty even more.

President Biden repeatedly despatched his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Austin even as he himself dashed to Tel Aviv in the immediate aftermath, despite his old age, to assure and extend sympathy and support to Israeli people, even if not necessarily to Netanyahu and his ultra-right government with which the two had developed fundamental differences.

Given his experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere he had warned Bibi early on about the dangers of ground offensive and downside of raging battles ahead, but to no avail. No one learns from history. The US diplomatic heft was compromised as even the smaller countries, dependent on the US, cancelled the Amman meet that Biden was seeking due to growing mistrust with Washington’s designs. His talk of a two-state solution appeared to them like a sham.

Secretary Blinken is back the fourth time in Israel and the region for his ‘vital’ shuttle diplomatic engagements as Netanyahu’s ultra-rightist divided cabinet and only war time allies are thinking of the ‘Day after’ scenario in Gaza with vertically opposite positions. Harassed President Biden, at one of his election rallies, muttered that he was in touch with the Israeli government and trying to get them out of Gaza.

But Netanyahu does not want to give up security and governing control and is not ready to oblige Biden and Blinken. From day one Biden has advised Bibi against designs to hang on to Gaza yet again. Some Israeli leaders from the Far-Right want the Gaza Palestinians to go to some other countries including in Africa projecting it as a ‘Voluntary’ migration of the already displaced.

Although Blinken tried to persuade Bibi to stick to a quick timeline for withdrawal and ending the campaign, the Israeli government with Smotrich and Ben Gvir is unlikely to yield. Even the war cabinet is likely to break up due to these fundamental differences as all of them want future threats from Hamas decimated.

This will again be a litmus test for the US foreign policy which has arguably been run by Bibi with alacrity and impunity. This helplessness on the part of the Biden Administration to contain the ongoing war, for over three months, has caused accusations of complicity and loss of credibility among various regional partners and in the Global South who are all worried and disenchanted by the prevailing emasculated global order. Their hopelessness is increasingly manifested in the imbecile UNGA resolutions as the UN and multilateral organisations have simply been rendered useless.

After the Afghanistan fiasco and at least the overt ambivalence and duality of approaches, Washington would need to do a real ‘Manthan’ and strategic introspection if it still wishes to guide the world on some principles of international law. But time is not on their side, or at least not much, as fragmentation of the so-called world order is spiraling fast.

Anil Trigunayat, is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta, and currently heads the West Asia Experts Group at Vivekananda International Foundation.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.

The article was first published as US is the biggest loser in Israel-Hamas war in the First Post on January 14, 2024.

Read more by author: Understanding the Turbulence in West Asia: What happened in 2023 and what lies ahead of 2024?

Acknowledgment: This article was posted by, Prasangana Paul, a research at IMPRI.

Previous articleIndo-Pacific In Focus: A Dialogue On Shared Security
Next articleUnderstanding The Indigo Pilot Assault: Bad Weather, Flight Delays And Passenger Satiety. – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute
IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here