To tell our Middle East tale a bit out of order, let’s start with what is currently a linchpin factoid and work around to other elements:
Israel: we’ll pause bombing you for 30 days, free all the detainees, then we’ll resume the mass killing again, ok?
Palestinian resistance: no, we want a permanent ceasefire
Israel: OMG HAMAS SAID NO TO CEASEFIRE https://t.co/rJ8EmiZP7W
— ashok kumar 🇵🇸 (@broseph_stalin) February 5, 2024
So all the Israel government is willing to entertain is a protracted pause. All that does is extend the Gaza genocide timetable. Hamas leaders are presumably smart enough not to fall for that.
But with Israel having proposed a “ceasefire” that is actually unserious about stopping the extermination in Gaza, they have succeeded in playing their cards to make Hamas look like the bad guys. But since the West already runs crude Israel video fakes as real, Hamas would be scapegoated whether or not they were being reasonable. 1
If you have been following the state of play in the Middle East, Tony Blinken, who as far as I can tell has yet to get any deal done evah in the Middle East, looks to be continuing his track record. He set out to attempt to broker a ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel. Even though Netanyahu and right-wing members of his coalition had maintained that destroying Hamas is first and getting the hostages back will follow from that, protests by the families of hostages have put pressure on the government to entertain talk of a ceasefire. But if I read this correctly, it’s na ga happen:
🚨🇮🇱 Israeli coward Ben Gvir:
“I am not a sheep, if there is a ceasefire in Gaza, we will LEAVE the government!”
“I will NOT allow the signing of an agreement that will lead to the victory of Hamas!.” pic.twitter.com/kc5IvN5ugT
— The Saviour (@stairwayto3dom) February 4, 2024
The speaker, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is head of the National Security Council. More important, he’s willing to topple the government if he does not have his way. From a recent Wall Street Journal story based on an exclusive interview with Ben-Gvir:
Now, crucially, Ben-Gvir has enough support in the ruling coalition to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule, and he says he is willing to use it. In his first interview with a foreign news organization since joining the government, Ben-Gvir warned that he would oppose any deal with Hamas that would free thousands of Palestinians held for terrorism or end the war before Hamas was fully defeated.
Ben-Gvir is a forceful proponent of clearing Gaza entirely of Palestinians and turning it into a Jewish enclave. He also believes Trump would be more willing to back these plans than Biden. It appears to take some months to organize new elections in Israel after a government falls (knowledgeable readers please pipe up). One could assume a caretaker government would continue existing policies and would not enter into something as important as a ceasefire deal, let alone one that was more than short term. So it is a little earlier than optimal for Ben-Gvir to force new elections. And Netanyahu obviously wants to stay Prime Minister as long as possible to hold off his prosecutions. But this calculus is part of the equation.
Consider also that, at least per some commentary, Biden is trying to contain the conflict surrounding Israel to more or less the current level, so as to avoid a regional war, at least before November elections. But it is hard to see his actions as being properly calibrated to achieve that end. Attacking g 85 targets to retaliate for 3 servicemember deaths on what is widely believed to be a US installation in Syria, hence illegal, is so excessive as to look silly, as in an admission of some combination of lack of emotional self control and lack of confidence in targeting.2 The US over the weekend made more strikes in Yemen when again many military experts have pointed out the use of force there won’t accomplish much….and it hasn’t save creating even stronger Yemeni support for the Houthis, more properly called Ansrallah. We can’t possibly invade Yemen. We don’t have the force strength and Hamas would likely sink some of our ships, a credibility disaster. And Yemen is just as difficult territory as Afghanistan, where neither the Soviet Union nor we prevailed.
And on the Iraq front, regardless of whether the strikes were all that effective, they look to have also had the effect being a big fat “no”‘ to an Iraqi insurgent offer to stop harassing the US if we’d keep on with the US plan to exit the country, as we’d allegedly said we’d do just a few days before. Recall, as we recounted, it was an Iraqi group, Kata’ib Hezbollah, that admitted to the strike that killed and said it was suspending strikes so as not to get in the way of the withdrawal deal. 85 strikes is way way more than what the US would need to make to keep up the appearance it was defending US forces. Perhaps one reason for the over-the-top number is that no way, no how will there be even an itty bittiest appearance that rebel action influence us.
On top of that, all of this threat display is using up more of our scarce weaponry. The US has supply issues with ship-borne missiles. We may not be as immediately constrained with ones launched from jets, but we look to be over-committed, between demands in Ukraine and sure-to-be-continuing needs on behalf of Israel.
With that introduction, let’s turn to the Administration’s fantasies about how it will get out of its current mess, as revealed in the planted Wall Street Journal story, U.S. Pairs Military Action With Diplomacy in Effort to Reshape Middle East. To its credit, the Journal plants a lot of skeptical markers: “monumental challenges,” “formidable obstacles,” “urgent challenge.” Its lead photo captures Tony Blinken in a “deer in the headlight” gaze.
Nevertheless, the article reveals the US is stuck in a badly-outdated picture of its influence, thinking it can drive events when we can’t even bring Israel to heel. From the report (emphasis ours):
On the military front, the U.S. has sought to buy time for its diplomacy by keeping Iran’s proxies at bay…
The administration’s effort faces formidable obstacles, not least the demanding compromises it would require on all sides.
The article also makes clear the US will engage in at most two-state theater:
Advancing the Palestinians’ prospects for a state of their own has become a prerequisite for pursuing Israeli-Saudi normalization and with it the hope of fostering a broad anti-Iran alignment in the region.
Right before the end, the piece does acknowledge that the US has a armaments problem:
Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank, said that the Friday strike was the largest military action the U.S. has launched against Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq since the Iraq war.
“From the perspective of these proxies and Iran itself, they are engaged in a long-term attritional struggle against the U.S.,” Lister said. “For now at least, this looks more like a hiccup along the road for them.”
But rather than tease out the implications, the very next sentence talks about the US using hard power, as if we were still dominant in that category.
Contrast the US view of what it thinks it can still do with the Axis of Resistance perspective, conveyed in a Black Mountain Analysis article we highlighted in Links:
The main actor in the region, Iran, is driving the expulsion of foreign forces out of the Middle East, and is accelerating its efforts…
As soon as the Quds plan has been activated [and it was with October 7] there is no turning back. The Rubicon has been crossed. All disguised Quds operators across the Middle East act to help coordinate the moves. And since they have done this, they are visible to the Mossad….The end of what just started will be a free Middle East (from an Iranian perspective), or no Middle East.
In other words, good luck with Biden trying to contain the violence or have the US dictate or even significantly influence outcomes. Russia has been playing nice by geopolitical standards. The Axis of Resistance won’t if tested.
1 Hamas could try to set up a deal where the Israelis were likely to fail to deliver fully on their commitments, then cancel. For instance, it would make sense from a public health standpoint for Hamas to seek a very high level of food deliveries to make up for the many weeks of starvation conditions (as in get a little fat back on dangerously thin bodies). The Israelis make a point of holding up all arriving supplies with the excuse that they need to inspect truck for weapons. As for this idea in particular, in the event Hamas were to propose making up for the protracted calorie deficit, Israel is likely to contend this is actually a Hamas scheme to stockpile food for its own use.
2 CNN reported that the US says it destroyed or damaged 84 of the 85 targets. But as Scott Ritter and others reported regarding our previous strikes on Yemen, most if not all were targets we’d identified and shot at earlier. And on top of that, aside from it not being clear that there was much of anything left, it’s not clear there was much of anything there initially.