Transforming Gaza from Crisis to a Complex Strategic Quandary

Arab region is currently undergoing a process we may term "regional restructuring." This concept represents a novel analytical framework for comprehending regional dynamics.

The situation in Gaza has evolved into a multifaceted challenge that defies easy resolution. External interference, the absence of regional cooperation, and intense political disputes among international stakeholders have collectively fostered a state of “political inertia” within the international community. Consequently, international security mechanisms struggle to broker a meaningful ceasefire that adequately addresses humanitarian concerns.

While the events within the Security Council may not have surprised observers, they underscore the prevailing disorder in today’s world, revealing a global landscape devoid of effective leadership. This flexibility within the international system carries dire consequences, potentially shaping the future international order and the roles of emerging influential global players.

Our Arab region is currently undergoing a process we may term “regional restructuring.” This concept represents a novel analytical framework for comprehending regional dynamics, emphasizing a protracted regional conflict driven not solely by military victories but by a desire to reshape prevailing political norms and establish new geopolitical boundaries. Three distinct categories of actors—non-state entities, regional powers, and extra-regional players—participate in this process, which is often marked by extremist behavior exhibited by certain involved parties.

Developments Unfolding in the United States

Recent developments in the United States reflect a shifting sentiment regarding the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Opinion polls reveal that a substantial 65% majority of Americans do not endorse the Israeli military campaign in Gaza. President Biden’s approval ratings have dipped to their lowest levels, primarily due to his unwavering support for Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Notably, significant changes have emerged within the Democratic Party, with data indicating that a striking 85% of Democrats disapprove of the Gaza conflict. Further evidence of this sentiment is the open letter penned by 24 representatives, urging President Biden to halt the hostilities, citing the damage to American interests and the nation’s global reputation.

A burgeoning youth movement opposing the war has also gained prominence, with 400 young individuals currently undergoing training in the White House, positioned as the “future leaders” of the United States. They have vocally condemned the Israeli actions against children in Gaza and have called for the president to reconsider his support for Israel.

One of the most significant developments is the Senate’s suspension of $14.2 billion in aid to Israel. This move carries substantial weight, given that Israel has historically been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II. Official documents indicate that the total aid provided to Israel from 1946 to 2023 has amounted to approximately $158.6 billion.

Despite America’s longstanding support for Israel in its ongoing Gaza campaign, shifts in the American position are becoming evident, driven by the urgency of ending the war. The approaching new year brings heightened importance to the American administration, as it determines the next president of the United States. President Biden is keen to avoid New Year’s celebrations overshadowed by the Gaza conflict and the potential for regional escalation.

The green light extended to Netanyahu by the U.S. was contingent upon timing rather than the extent of destruction or the severity of potential civilian harm in Gaza. President Joe Biden now confronts a genuine dilemma in his approach to the Israeli-Gaza war. Allowing the conflict to persist may jeopardize his chances of securing a second term, while pressuring Israel to cease hostilities could hinder his ability to complete his current term, particularly given Netanyahu’s reliance on the influential Zionist lobby within the United States.

It’s crucial to recall that historically, the Democratic Party has been more inclined toward advocating a two-state solution. However, their efforts have often collided with Israeli obstinacy, potentially undermining these American policy directions.

A significant example of this clash unfolded during President Bill Clinton’s tenure when he attempted to pressure Israel into embracing the two-state solution. The Zionist lobby worked to embroil him in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, diverting global attention from his political legacy to that infamous episode.

In 2009, when President Obama sought to prioritize American interests with a balanced political approach, he encountered substantial criticism from Israel’s supporters within the United States. Despite increasing American aid to Israel from $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion during his presidency, he faced a noteworthy rebuke from the then-Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s 2015 visit to the United States, at the invitation of the U.S. House of Representatives, notably excluded a meeting with President Obama.

Today, President Biden is confronted with a delicate balancing act. Supporting Israel poses its challenges, while abandoning it would undoubtedly lead to disaster. These complex dynamics have prompted President Biden to adopt a more assertive diplomatic stance toward Israel. He has explicitly rejected the idea of displacing Palestinians, a plan that Israel had harbored aspirations of implementing.

The Quandary of the Gaza Conflict

In the contemporary geopolitical landscape, shifts in geopolitical situations no longer hinge solely on alterations in borders, as was traditionally perceived through the rise or disintegration of nations. Instead, they are influenced by the crystallization of specific events, particularly when they are sudden, substantial, and unforeseen. This holds true, to a significant extent, for the Al-Aqsa Flood operation.

The scale and brutality of the operation managed to enrage Israel, shattering its complacency. In response, Israel resolved to restore its lost deterrence credibility, utilizing all available means, regardless of the associated costs.

Initially elevating Israeli demands at the outset of the conflict, coupled with their failure to achieve these objectives, compounded the complexity of the situation. This made it virtually impossible for Netanyahu to contemplate ending the war, which would spell the demise of his political career, and possibly even his personal well-being, given his propensity to pursue desperate measures when cornered.

The widening scope of the conflict, particularly actions by the Yemeni army, represents a significant and perilous development. It has raised alarms and prompted global nations to contemplate intervention to halt a war now posing a threat to international trade routes.

Historically, the American strategy in the Middle East revolved around three key objectives: securing access to oil, ensuring Israel’s security, and protecting global trade routes. Presently, Israel’s security is under grave threat, along with the sea lanes, jeopardizing the flow of oil to Europe, thus undermining American strategy on multiple fronts.

Netanyahu’s sole way forward is to successfully expand the conflict by involving Hezbollah in direct confrontation with Israel, effectively shifting the battleground to Syria. Hezbollah still retains the capacity to dictate the rules of engagement, recognizing that these rules are defined by on-ground conditions rather than predetermined parameters.

Hence, in response to the wishes of Russia, Iran, and Syria to prevent Netanyahu from escalating the conflict and drawing in the United States, acting on the principle of “achieving deterrence without initiating it” becomes crucial.

Alternatively, Netanyahu might seek to embroil the United States directly in the conflict by staging a direct attack on American forces in the region and attributing it to the opposing party, akin to the 1967 incident when Israel attacked the American destroyer USS Liberty, resulting in 34 fatalities and 171 injuries.

It is worth noting that the idea of a major war is solely Netanyahu’s ambition. His only recourse is to forge ahead, regardless of the consequences. Currently, there seems to be no force capable of restraining him, even if the American president were inclined to do so, given the near-unwavering support for Israel within the echelons of American political decision-making.

Perhaps the ultimate resolution lies in the form and nature of the forthcoming security arrangements in Gaza, reflecting and solidifying the victor’s will on the ground.

Shaher Al Shaher
Shaher Al Shaher
Associate Professor School of International Studies Sun Yat-Sen University/ China Professor at the Faculty of Political Science - University of Damascus (previously)