Biden Under Pressure to Harness Israel
Thewell-known French philosopher, writer and political activist, late Paul-Michel
Foucault has written
conversation he had with an Iranian during his visit to Tehran in November 1978
on the eve of the Islamic Revolution. The stranger remarked, “They will never
let go of us of their own will. No more than they did in Vietnam.”
Foucault wrote later, “I wanted to respond that they are even less ready to let
go of you than Vietnam because of oil, because of the Middle East. Today they
seem ready, after Camp David, to concede Lebanon to Syrian domination and
therefore to Soviet influence, but would the United States be ready to deprive
itself of a position that, according to circumstance, would allow them to
intervene from the East or to monitor the peace?”
These words capture the geopolitics of Israel. West Asia has been the fulcrum
of the world order for more than century — that is, if one were to take into
account that the colonial rule was part of a broader pattern of intervention
that went back to the era of Disraeli and Gladstone, when the European powers
picked at the decaying corpse of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-18th century.
In yesteryears we were told that with self-sufficiency in oil, the US has no
more need to depend on the Persian Gulf region. Of late, there is talk about a
refocusing of US global strategies on the Asia-Pacific. But in reality, a US
retrenchment in West Asia is inconceivable.
Even if the US is no longer dependent on Gulf oil, other countries are,
including China. The US would still want to calibrate the oil market. Besides,
control of the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean remains a core template of the US’
Indo-Pacific strategic concept.
Above all, the petrodollar is a pillar of the dollar as world currency since
1979 when the US and Saudi Arabia agreed to use dollars for oil contracts.
Petrodollar recycling creates demand for US assets and any move away from it
could potentially increase borrowing costs for the USG, companies, and
consumers if sources of money become scarce.
Suffice to say, to counter China’s rise as a rival power, the US must guard its
gates in West Asia. All this makes Israel the lynchpin of the US’ West Asian
Meanwhile, the West Asian situation is radically transforming. The four main
trends are: One, Abraham Accords has lost momentum. Clearly, the
unrepresentative Arab regimes do not speak for the ‘Arab Street’. No Arab
stampede to establish relations with Israel needs to be expected. Even Saudi
Arabia will take time.
Two, Saudi Arabia is in transition. A reset in the US-Saudi relations is under
way. In turn, uncertainties in the US-Saudi relations have prompted Riyadh to
reach out to normalise ties with Qatar, Turkey, Syria and Iran. It is looking
for ways to extricate itself from the quagmire in Yemen. The Gulf Cooperation
Council no longer serves as a regional forum to exercise Saudi leadership.
Three, the US’ credibility as provider of security is eroding. In varying
degrees, the regional states have begun diversifying their relations —
gravitating towards Russia and China. Not a single West Asian country chose to
identify with the US tirade on Uighur problem or with the sanctions against
Finally, Iran is on the cusp of change. The lifting of the US sanctions, which
is widely expected, can only shift the regional balance in Iran’s favour.
Iran’s surge adds to the gravitas of the Palestinian resistance movement.
It is against the above backdrop that the conflict in Gaza, Jerusalem and
The following fault lines have appeared:
- Israel’s overpowering military
superiority is steadily losing relevance in the asymmetric conflict;
- Inter-communal riots within
Israel do not augur well for national unity and stability;
- The international opinion is
turning against Israel;
- Jerusalem remains a bleeding
wound; recent failed coup attempt against Jordan’s King Abdullah exacerbates
- Within Palestinian camp too,
the leadership of Mohammed Abbas is ending while Fatah grapples with a 3-way
- The US-Israeli-Emirati plan to
take control of the Palestinian Authority leadership has suffered a setback,
while Hamas rises as the dominant force within the PLO, be it in war or peace;
- Hamas has tasted the power of
deterrence; a Hizbollah-like situation is entirely conceivable where Israel’s
use of force would trigger retaliation at unacceptable costs.
In this dramatic setting, the Biden Administration has begun reviving the old
links with Palestinians. The US has resumed aid for Palestinians. Surely, the
US has no stomach to intervene militarily. The domestic opinion strongly
militates against any new Middle Eastern interventions. The emphasis is on the
Meanwhile, there is a groundswell of opinion within the Democratic Party, which
refuses to condone or quiesce to the Israeli behaviour toward the Palestinians.
At some point, the Biden Administration may reshape US-Israeli-Palestinian
The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently wrote that the Biden
Administration should signal to Israel that “we will be treating the
Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as a Palestinian state in the making,
and we will be taking a series of diplomatic steps to concretise Palestinian
statehood in order to preserve the viability of a two-state solution…”
On the other hand, the blacklisting of Hamas as “terrorist” group is becoming
untenable. There are red lines within Hamas too. Indeed, its view of political
Islam is far from that of the Emirate. To quote from a commentary by the
International Crisis Group,
“While Hamas has indicated its readiness to de facto accept Israel (notably in
revisions to the Hamas charter in 2017) and to work in a government that
affirms the PLO principles (which include accepting previous agreements and
non-violence), it will not explicitly endorse these stipulations, which remain
controversial in the movement and are considered relevant only in the context
of any potential comprehensive deal and regarding which there are no reciprocal
demands on Israel.”
The Hamas wants the current ceasefire to hold. But so long as Israeli policies
of annexation of Palestinian territories and ethnic cleansing continue,
violence continues and resistance will only harden.
Aaron David Miller, former US diplomat who has advised Republican and
Democratic administrations on Middle East issues, was quoted recently as
saying, “The greater irony is yet another wash, rinse and repeat cycle.
Millions for Gaza reconstruction only to see it levelled in the now
all-but-inevitable next round.”
Israel’s left stands greatly weakened under Netanyahu’s watch. Yet, the Biden
administration has returned negotiations with the Palestinians — with the goal
of achieving a two-state solution — back to centre stage after a hiatus of
But then, arguably, the US has been here before. Herein lies the paradox. The
Biden administration’s shielding of Israel at the United Nations is consistent
with the past US role in underwriting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian
lands for decades. Yet, it is only Washington that can do the harnessing of