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Israel-Palestine war: America's enemies are multiplying by the day

Even if regional war is avoided, US support for Israel has created huge anger and damage to its reputation. Only by calling for a permanent ceasefire can it claw back some credibility
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 8 November 2023 (Reuters)

While US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been frantically shuttling around the Middle East trying to stop the Israeli conflict in Gaza from exploding into a regional war, the United States has also sent two aircraft-carrier strike groups, a Marine expeditionary unit and 1,200 extra troops to the Middle East as a “deterrent”.

In plain language, the US is threatening to attack any forces that come to the defence of the Palestinians from other countries in the region, reassuring Israel that it can keep killing with impunity in Gaza.

But if Israel persists in this genocidal war, US threats may be impotent to prevent others from intervening. From Lebanon to Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Iran, the possibilities of the conflict spreading are enormous.

Even Algeria says it is ready to fight for a free Palestine, based on a unanimous vote in its parliament on 1 November. 

Middle Eastern governments and their people already see the US as a party to Israel’s massacre in Gaza. So any direct US military action will be seen as an escalation on the side of Israel and is more likely to provoke further escalation than to deter it.

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The US already faces this predicament in Iraq. Despite years of Iraqi demands for the removal of US forces, at least 2,500 American troops remain at Al-Asad airbase in western Anbar province, Al-Harir airbase, north of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, and another small base at the airport in Erbil.

There are also “several hundred” Nato troops, including Americans, advising Iraqi forces in Nato Mission Iraq, based near Baghdad.

New escalation

For many years, US forces in Iraq have been mired in a low-grade war against the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) that Iraq formed to fight the Islamic State (IS) group, mainly from Shia militias.

Despite their links to Iran, the armed groups Kata’ib Hezbollah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and other PMFs have often ignored Iranian calls to de-escalate attacks on US forces. These Iraqi groups do not respect Iran Quds Force leader General Esmail Qaani as highly as they did General Qassem Soleimani, so Soleimani’s assassination by the United States in 2020 has further reduced Iran’s ability to restrain the militias in Iraq.

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After a year-long truce between US and Iraqi forces, the Israeli war on Gaza has triggered a new escalation of this conflict in both Iraq and Syria.

Some militias rebranded themselves as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, and began attacking US bases on 17 October.

After 32 attacks on American bases in Iraq, 34 more in Syria and three US air strikes in Syria, on 21 November, US forces conducted air strikes against two Kata’ib Hezbollah bases in Iraq, one in Anbar province and one in Jurf al-Nasr, south of Baghdad, killing at least nine militiamen.

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The air strikes prompted a furious response from Iraqi government spokesman Bassem al-Awadi.

“We vehemently condemn the attack on Jurf al-Nasr, executed without the knowledge of government agencies,” Awadi said.

“This action is a blatant violation of sovereignty and an attempt to destabilise the security situation... The recent incident represents a clear violation of the coalition’s mission to combat Daesh [IS] on Iraqi soil. We call on all parties to avoid unilateral actions and to respect Iraq’s sovereignty.”

As the Iraqi government feared, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq responded to the US air strikes with two attacks on Al-Harir airbase on 22 November and several more on 23 November.

They attacked Al-Asad airbase with several drones, launched another drone attack on the US base at Erbil airport, and their allies in Syria attacked two US bases across the border in northeastern Syria.

Rising violence

Short of a ceasefire in Gaza or a full US withdrawal from Iraq and Syria, there is no decisive action the US can take that would put a stop to these attacks. So the level of violence in Iraq and Syria is likely to keep rising as long as the war on Gaza continues.

Another formidable and experienced military force opposing Israel and the United States is the Houthi army in Yemen. On 14 November, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the AnsarAllah government in Yemen, asked neighbouring countries to open a corridor through their territory for his army to go and fight Israel in Gaza.

The Houthi deputy information secretary, Nasreddin Amer, told Newsweek that if they had a way to enter Palestine, they would not hesitate to join the fight against Israel.

“We have fighters numbering hundreds of thousands who are brave, tough, trained and experienced in fighting,” Amer said. “They have a very strong belief, and their dream in life is to fight the Zionists and the Americans.”

Transporting hundreds of thousands of Yemeni soldiers to fight in Gaza would be nearly impossible unless Saudi Arabia opened the way. That seems highly unlikely, but Iran or another ally could help to transport a smaller number by air or sea to join the fight. 

Turkey's President Erdogan was among the first international leaders to speak out strongly against the Israeli war on Gaza, explicitly saying that it amounted to genocide

The Houthis have been waging an asymmetric war against Saudi-led invaders for many years, and they have developed weapons and tactics that they could bring to bear against Israel. Soon after al-Houthi’s statement, Yemeni forces in the Red Sea boarded a ship owned, via shell companies, by Israeli billionaire Abraham Ungar.

The ship, which was on its way from Istanbul to India, was detained in a Yemeni port. 

The Houthis have also launched a series of drones and missiles towards Israel. While many members of the US Congress try to portray the Houthis as simply puppets of Iran, the Houthis are actually an independent, unpredictable force that other actors in the region cannot control. 

Even Nato ally Turkey is finding it difficult to remain a bystander, given the widespread public support for Palestine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was among the first international leaders to speak out strongly against the Israeli war on Gaza, explicitly calling it a massacre and saying that it amounted to genocide

Turkish civil society groups are spearheading a campaign to send humanitarian aid to Gaza on cargo ships, braving a possible confrontation like the one that occurred in 2010 when the Israelis attacked the Freedom Flotilla, killing 10 people aboard the Mavi Marmara.

'All options on table'

On the Lebanese border, Israel and Hezbollah have conducted daily exchanges of fire since 7 October, killing 97 combatants and 15 civilians in Lebanon and nine soldiers and three civilians in Israel. Some 46,000 Lebanese civilians and 65,000 Israelis have been displaced from the border area.

Israel's defence minister, Yoav Gallant, warned on 11 November: “What we’re doing in Gaza, we can also do in Beirut.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated the threat this week.

How will Hezbollah react now that Israel has resumed its brutal massacre in Gaza after the brief pause or if Israel expands the massacre to the West Bank, where it has already killed at least 237 more Palestinians since 7 October? 

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In a speech on 3 November, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah held back from declaring a new war on Israel, but warned that “all options are on the table” if Israel did not end its war on Gaza.  

As Israel prepared to pause its bombing on 23 November, Iran's foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, held meetings in Qatar, first with Nasrallah and Lebanese officials, and then with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. 

In a public statement, Amir-Abdollahian said: “The continuation of the ceasefire can prevent further expansion of the scope of the war. In the meeting with the leaders of the resistance, I found out that if Israel’s war crimes and genocide continue, a tougher and more complicated scenario of the resistance will be implemented.”

Amir-Abdollahian already warned on 16 October that, “the leaders of the resistance will not allow the Zionist regime to do whatever it wants in Gaza and then go to other fronts of the resistance”.

In other words, if Iran and its allies believe that Israel really intends to continue its war on Gaza until it has removed Hamas from power, and then turn its war machine loose on Lebanon or its other neighbours, they would prefer to fight a wider war now, forcing Israel to fight the Palestinians, Hezbollah and their allies at the same time, rather than waiting for Israel to attack them one by one.

Few allies

Tragically, the White House is not listening. The next day, President Joe Biden continued to back Israel’s vow to resume the destruction of Gaza, saying that attempting to eliminate Hamas is “a legitimate objective”.

America’s unconditional support for Israel and an endless supply of weapons have succeeded only in turning Israel into an out-of-control, genocidal, destabilising force at the heart of a fragile region already shattered and traumatised by decades of US war-making.

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The result is a country that refuses to recognise its own borders or those of its neighbours, and rejects any and all limits on its territorial ambitions and war crimes.

If Israel’s actions lead to a wider war, the US will find itself with few allies ready to jump into the fray.

Even if a regional conflict is avoided, US support for Israel has already created tremendous damage to its reputation in the region and beyond, and direct US involvement in the war would leave it more isolated and impotent than its previous misadventures in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The United States can still avoid this fate by insisting on an immediate and permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

If Israel does not agree to that, the US must back up this position with an immediate suspension of arms deliveries, military aid, Israeli access to US weapons stockpiles in Israel and diplomatic support for Israel’s war on Palestine. 

The priority of US officials must be to stop Israel’s massacre, avoid a regional war, and get out of the way so that other nations can help negotiate a real solution to the occupation of Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Nicolas J S Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher for CODEPINK and the author of Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
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