Being in Washington’s good graces can end as poorly as being abandoned by it. Israel should be particularly concerned about this
This is a moment of global danger and deep horror. Horror is, or ought to be, the ordinary human response to Israel’s attempt to use the October 7 Hamas assault – attacking military targets, which constitutes legitimate resistance to occupation under international law, but also civilians, which is an odious crime – as a pretext for ethnic cleansing by inflicting genocidal atrocities on the Palestinians in Gaza and beyond.
This brutal bombing and shelling (which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proudly shared in videos on social media) and the use of a blockade as a weapon against over two million civilians (imprisoned in what is, in the words of Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling, “the world’s largest concentration camp ever”), reveal the real nature of Israel’s campaign. Rather than a war against Hamas, Israel’s government is engaged in another, escalating stage of the Nakba, the long-standing settler-colonial project to create a state free of the indigenous inhabitants of the land, the Palestinians. Citing the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Raz Segal, a widely recognized Israeli expert on the Holocaust and genocide in general, finds that the current assault on Gaza even amounts to a “textbook case” of this crime.
What makes this even more horrifying is the fact that the US, the single most militarily powerful and aggressive country in the world, is abetting this crime. The EU, with Germany in the lead, is trying to outdo Washington in its complicity; the International Criminal Court is practicing criminal negligence, and the UN distracts the world by offering the equivalent of Band-Aids to victims of mass murder. Initially at least, the Western media mostly failed, again, in their principal duties, namely, to inform without bias and to critically scrutinize the actions of their own governments. Instead, they spread Israeli disinformation designed to dehumanize the Palestinians, making them appear as “human animals,” in the words of Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who have no rights and deserve no pity. This type of rhetoric is, of course, a classical element of genocide, as Raz Segal has also pointed out.
The global danger stems from the indiscriminate US backing of Israel. In a saner world, Israel would be internationally isolated and stopped by the threat – and, if necessary, use – of military force to protect Palestinian civilians. If humanitarian intervention ever makes sense, it does here. But Washington shields Israel from the consequences of its actions. That is an old policy. Two things are different this time, however. First, the US is weakened by its senescent yet obstinate leader, its general decline, and three major recent geopolitical failures: the 2021 rout of Kabul, the looming defeat of its proxies in Ukraine, and China’s success in withstanding American economic and technological warfare. It also faces increasingly well-organized resistance to its claims to “leadership” from most of the rest of the world, crystalizing in, for instance, the BRICS+ and the Belt and Road Initiative, as the American economist Jeffrey Sachs has explained repeatedly.
Second, current Israeli brutality is so exorbitant, even by the standards of an apartheid regime that habitually suppresses even peaceful protests with lethal violence, that America is experiencing unprecedented difficulties in keeping its allies, clients, and opponents in the Middle East in check. The extravagant military build-up around the two carrier strike forces (and then some) Washington has deployed is not a sign of strength but of weakness: The more the US is losing the argument, the more it is thumping the table. That should worry every single human being on this planet, which we must share with America.
The Israeli perpetrators may still fail to achieve all their aims, even while inflicting horrendous suffering on their victims. There are faint signs that some of their Western backers are getting cold feet, and there is, of course, the resistance of the Palestinians. But even if the perpetrators fail for now, they will soon start again, as history has taught us since the Nakba began in 1948. Unless, that is, they are stopped with enough force to make them abandon their long-term policy of ethnic cleansing and supremacist ethno-nationalism.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is doubling down on its aggressive policies toward both Russia and China, escalating reckless rhetoric, as in a much-noted recent prime-time address from the Oval Office, and asking for more money for its bottomless proxy war in Ukraine. Ukraine, however, is clearly yesterday’s favorite. Growing sections of the American political class and public are tired of a project that keeps failing at an exorbitant cost, as the wrangle over the speaker of the House of Representatives post and a CNN poll have shown. Zelensky’s skill as a performer can no longer make up for this fundamental loss of ground.
Kiev has fallen from grace for two reasons. First, and more importantly, its much-hyped counter-offensive has failed; Moscow holds the initiative now. Russia has not been regime-changed and its economy is in better shape than that of Germany, another former American favorite, despite one round after another of the West’s “sanctions from hell.” If anything, Western economic warfare has made Russia more resilient and independent. Russia’s military is learning and improving; it is not experiencing substantial problems mobilizing men or supplies. Russia is not internationally isolated. Indeed, its de facto alliance with China is flourishing, as the recent Belt and Road tenth-anniversary summit and its results have shown, including the go-ahead for the Power of Siberia 2 pipeline.
Second, American resources – and those of its clients – are, of course, not unlimited, regardless of Biden’s fantasies. In reality, the proxy war in Ukraine had already strained and drained them, financially and in terms of miliary supplies and their production. Against this backdrop, the Hamas attack and Israel’s use of it have added another urgent crisis, which has accelerated Ukraine’s decline in Washington’s order of priorities. Ukraine may or may not receive more funding. The end of the rope, as the Pentagon spokesperson put it even before the flare-up in the Middle East, is near.
It turns out that being a favorite of American geopolitics is, in the end, not much safer than being a neglected, even abused orphan. The Palestinians are the victims of crimes against humanity committed by Israel with America’s support. The American media and public intellectuals who were vocal about the need to support Ukraine have nothing (or worse) to say about Gaza and the West Bank. The political, legal, and moral double standards are grotesquely obvious. While the fate of the Palestinians is worse than that of the Ukrainians, the question remains: What have the latter got out of their passing moment as America’s favorite client state? A devastating war, most likely soon to be lost, that could have been avoided or quickly ended by professional diplomacy and a viable compromise, if Washington had wanted to do so.
There’s a lesson here, if not for the first time, for those tempted to trust the US and make their country’s welfare and security dependent on it: It is a ruthless power characterized by chillingly cold geopolitical egotism. Perhaps even worse, it is also an irrational and, by now, shortsighted power: It is not only supremely calculating but also gets its sums badly wrong, to paraphrase George Orwell. One state that should worry about this pattern is Israel, of course. For now, its close relationship with the US gives it impunity and power out of all proportion to its real capabilities. It can afford to be hated by millions of its victims and many of its neighbors, who constantly suffer from its aggressions. It is, in other words, the ultimate American favorite. That, once you think about it, is not an enviable position.