Hamas, Israel, Mr. Biden & The World
From Nirmalya Chatterjee
In a recent interview on ‘60 Minutes’ by CBS, President Biden looked straight at the interviewer and said – ‘it would be a mistake for Israel to occupy Gaza’. A very bold statement made with a very somber face. It opened a window into his thinking on a very complex challenge. He seemed to signal one of America’s best friends to be careful. Soon after that interview, he made an unprecedented trip to Israel during the war to show America’s strong support for Israel. The visuals of his trip spoke volumes of his empathy for the people in the region. Mr. Biden is obviously undergoing a very difficult balancing act between showing America’s resolve against brutal terrorism, trying to restrain Israel’s neighbors from boiling over, how to help and guide one of America’s closest allies, and keeping a close eye on the bigger powers like Iran & Russia who are trying to take advantage of the situation. His worries are what should be the next 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 steps for America & Israel. He is staying calm and trying to bring peace and justice to a region that has been in wars and destruction for over a century.
Israel has vowed to ‘finish off’ Hamas in response to the brutal and well-planned attacks of October 7. It has been bombing Gaza relentlessly since the attack. Gaza is getting transformed into rubble. Massive numbers of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles are lined up along the Gaza borders with some 300,000 troops ready to go in. Hamas, on the other hand, has built an intricate network of tunnels to fight the Israeli army. It is going to be hand-to-hand prolonged pitched battles. No one knows how long it will take Israel to achieve its military goal. Over two million Palestinians living in Gaza, which is roughly the size of Washington DC, constitute one of the most densely populated areas in the world. It is anyone’s guess how many more civilians will die as the war steps up especially because Hamas wants to use the civilians as ‘human shield’ against the Israeli army. Where do these people go until normalcy returns to Gaza? Most of the surrounding countries do not want any more of the Palestinian refugees because they already have many camps of refugees displaced through the successive wars in the region. How do you rebuild Gaza from its rubble? Who takes the lead on that? What will be the road map to build the ‘two-state’ solution – separate homelands for the Israelis and the Palestinians to achieve lasting peace in the region? Will the neighboring Arab countries help make that happen? These are some of the most complex questions that US policymakers will have to grapple with as the catastrophe unfolds.
As the tension continues to rise, the US policy makers are very concerned about the potential involvement of Hezbollah in the conflict. Hezbollah is a very well-equipped & formidable force. They are active in southern Lebanon just across the border from northern Israel. They have a long history of terrorism. Iran is a major benefactor of the Hezbollah. Iran, in its march towards achieving regional supremacy, will potentially try to use Hezbollah as a proxy for confronting Israel and try to drag the US directly into this conflict. Mr. Biden is very aware of that. He has sent two very powerful aircraft carriers to the region to warn Iran and others.
While the US does not want to commit its own troops in the area, it would be a very critical test for Mr. Biden on how to deal with Hezbollah and the Iranians should something flare up there. The other flashpoint between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the ‘West Bank’ (of the Jordan River) which is primarily administered by the Palestinian Authority. Parts of the West Bank were captured by the Israelis during the 1967 war and growing Israeli settlements there are a constant source of tension. The situation there has become very intense since the Israeli bombing started in Gaza.
With the sudden explosion of crisis in the Middle East, there are several other unfolding events in the global scene that are worrisome for Mr. Biden. Of course, the war in Ukraine that the US and its allies must continue to support does not seem to have an end in sight. Chinese premier Xi Jinping held an international conference on the ‘New World Order’ last week. None of the western leaders were invited. It was an opportunity for Vladimir Putin to attend and rekindle Russia’s relationship with China. China continues to ratchet up its pressure on Taiwan and the South China Sea. North Korea has recently delivered more than 1000 containers of military supplies and weapons to Russia. Russia in return has supplied North Korea with missiles and advanced technologies. Iran has been supplying missiles to Russia that are being used against the Ukrainians. The totalitarian leaders of these four countries, namely Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, are bonding strongly. So, there is a lot for Mr. Biden to worry about.
Immediately upon his return from the trip to Israel, Mr. Biden addressed the nation from the Oval Office. He framed his thoughts by linking the developments in the Middle East with the war in Ukraine. He reminded the nation that America needs to stay vitally strong, both politically and militarily, to protect democracy and freedom in the world. As the war rages on in the Middle East, the axis of four is lurking on the side to fan the flame. Very dicey situation. He has acknowledged America’s overreaction to 9/11. He must be very careful how he navigates through this crisis. History will judge him for his leadership now. (This submission has not been edited.)