Joe Biden’s new West Asia strategy ETV Bharat 16 May 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Joe Biden’s new West Asia strategy ETV Bharat 16 May 2024

          A few recent actions of the Biden administration display a possible changing US strategy for West Asia. Firstly, is the appointment of Maher Bitar as President Biden’s special counsel. Maher was earlier with the Obama administration where he handled Israel-Palestine. As a student he was President of the Students for Justice in Palestine, a violent antisemitic organization, responsible for stalling Israel sponsored events on campuses.

The same organization is currently spearheading most protests on US campuses demanding an end to support to Israel. Biden bringing a confirmed antisemitic into the White House simultaneous to backing breaking of antisemitic protests in US universities, employing police power, possibly indicates his intent to reduce support to Israel thereby attracting Muslim American voters in the forthcoming elections.  

The second input is the announcement that the US will stop supplying weapons and ammunition essential for a ground assault in case Israel moves ahead with its attack on Rafah, which has already commenced. In an interview to CNN, President Biden stated, ‘If they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah.’ He added, ‘I’ve made it clear to Bibi (Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu) and the war cabinet, they’re not going to get our support, if in fact they go in these population centres.’ These restrictions are music to ears of Iranian proxies.

Meanwhile Washington continues providing weaponry to Qatar and Lebanon, while maintaining its sanction waivers for Iran, despite Iranian proxies engaging Israel from multiple directions. US issues quarterly sanction waivers enabling Iraq to import electricity from Iran. Payment for the same is deposited in a bank account in Oman which Iran can convert into Euros.  

Thirdly, a few days after Biden blocked ammunition supplies, a White House ordered review on employment of US supplied weapons to different nations mentions that Israel ‘may have used American-supplied weapons in breach of international humanitarian law in some instances during the war.’ It added, ‘Israel has the knowledge, experience, and tools to implement best practices for mitigating civilian harm in its military operations,’ but ‘results on the ground, including high levels of civilian casualties, raise substantial questions as to whether the IDF is using them effectively in all cases.’  

These White House actions convey a few messages. Firstly, the US will no longer be a ‘blank cheque’ to Israel. Thus far Israel had always assumed that it had US support, no matter how it acted against its opponents, while disregarding US suggestions and concerns.

Secondly, Biden is desperately wooing the US Muslim vote bank and is willing to reduce support to Israel to do so. Biden has been observing ongoing anti-Israel protests within US universities. A Rafah offensive leading to increased civilian casualties could result in Muslim American voters shunning him in favour of Trump.

Simultaneously, if he halts all weapon supplies, Jewish voters would boycott him. Hence, Biden mentioned that he would continue supporting Israel with anti-missile weaponry. Elections have compelled Biden to toe a careful line.

Thirdly, it displays frustration within the US administration, on Netanyahu’s policies including managing the ongoing Gaza conflict. However, outwardly Washington displays support to Tel Aviv by blocking multiple UN Security Council resolutions condemning it.     

          The US ‘officially’ mentions that a major military assault on Rafah, would strengthen hands of Hamas on the negotiating table. It could throw all attempts at peace, currently being negotiated by Egypt, UAE and Qatar, into the dustbin. Cairo has already announced its intent of joining the South African case against Israel in the International Court of Justice.

Further, US allies in the region, currently maintaining diplomatic ties with Israel, could face additional internal pressures in case of increased civilian casualties. Tensions in the Middle East is the last straw for the US, especially with the ongoing Ukraine conflict and increased Chinese aggressiveness.

Netanyahu’s coalition government is also fighting a battle for political survival. On one hand, Netanyahu is being pushed by relatives of those kidnapped by Hamas to strike a peace deal thereby ensuring their return while on the other, hardliners in his cabinet demand an all-out assault on Rafah. If Netanyahu bends in one direction, then pressures could mount from the other.

Added are corruption court cases pending against him. Hence, Netanyahu insists that without clearing Rafah, Israel’s war aim of destroying Hamas would remain incomplete. Displaying bravado, Netanyahu commented on the US stopping arms shipments, ‘if we have to stand alone, we will stand alone. If we need to, we will fight with our fingernails.’

A snap election in Israel could end the reign of Netanyahu’s Likud party. Further, an investigation into failures leading upto the 07 Oct Hamas attack, not yet ordered by Netanyahu, would definitely hold him responsible, ending his political career. His only option is destruction of Hamas and ensuring rescue of hostages. Israel’s military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, mentioned that Israel possesses sufficient ammunition for Rafah and other planned future operations adding that differences with the US were being resolved privately.

          Biden’s problem does not appear to be Israeli lawmakers but Netanyahu. Netanyahu is refusing to heed to US cautions as he considers his personal fight for survival more important than listening to the US.

          Biden’s multiple attempts at resolving differences with Iran have been hampered by Israel, compelling him to consider a Saudi-Israel peace initiative, thereby enhancing its anti-Iran alliance. US influence, as also its relations with Arab states, face a possible setback in case casualties increase post a Rafah strike with US backing.

The UN as also other global organizations including the International Court of Justice are demanding holding Israel accountable for innocent casualties in the war. In the UNSC, the US vetoes all anti-Israel resolutions. The recent UN General Assembly vote on Palestine’s membership to the organization was a setback to US-Israel influence. Another veto on Palestine could damage Washington’s global reputation.

          For the US, a strong Israel is an essential part of its strategy for West Asia. It ensures peace while providing the US with requisite military backup. Simultaneously, it does not desire an Israel which refuses to adhere to its advice, despite Washington being its main backer and financer. The survival of Hamas is also essential for the US to maintain some form of pressure on Israel hence Washington would never desire its elimination.

Washington has always supported Tel Aviv, irrespective of the government in power, partly due to a powerful Jewish lobby within the US. It will continue to do so, however would prefer a leader willing to work alongside it. Finally, Biden has to balance his support for Israel alongside his regaining the White House in the forthcoming elections. If need be, Netanyahu will be the sacrificial goat.      



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