The US Is Back in the Middle East

Defeating the jihadists doesn’t have to be incompatible with protecting the civilian population of Gaza. The West must lend its full support so Israel can be successful in this effort.

President Joe Biden has taken the helm of U.S. diplomacy with his visit to Israel in the most critical moment in the history of the Jewish state since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The U.S. is back in the Middle East after years of absence.

Barack Obama has acknowledged that his biggest foreign policy mistake was the withdrawal from the Middle East, under pressure of the fatigue from the Iraq war, which he had opposed as a senator. He did not intervene in Syria, even though Bashar Assad had crossed one of his red lines with the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population.

The power vacuum was quickly filled by Russia, which during this decade forged some very valuable alliances for its war in Ukraine (note the use of Iranian suicide drones on the battlefield). But with the U.S. withdrawal, the Middle East was abandoned above all to its fratricidal impulses. Russia is marginalized by its own illegal aggression against Ukraine and is now incapable of acting as the peacemaker. It is more interested in stirring up a growing anti-Western sentiment with China across the whole Arab world. It’s not a coincidence that the angry protests on Oct. 18 should have had as their target the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

For Washington, Israel is not merely a question of foreign policy; the relationship is so close that it can be considered a domestic policy issue. On the eve of an election year, the U.S. president can’t limit himself to showing his support for the Jewish state. He has to position himself on the front line. From there his focus is on making real progress, like opening a humanitarian corridor into Gaza through Egypt. The U.S. president has also pressured Israel to secure protected zones for civilians in the southern Gaza Strip and to facilitate the evacuation of the wounded and of citizens of dual nationality. He will very likely be paying careful attention to the rescue of the hostages (199 according to the latest data from Israel), although this is a more complicated operation.

The slaughter carried out by Hamas on Oct. 7 shattered the rules of an old Arab-Israeli conflict; only those who do not recognize Israel’s right to exist will deny its right of legitimate defense. In the Arab world, the Abraham Accords, which promoted the normalization of relations with the Jewish state, have become a mirage, and the Palestinian cause has once again united the 450 million members of the Muslim community. The delay in the Israeli incursion is due above all to internal factors and to the recognition that a precipitous invasion would turn the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital massacre into an anecdote. Biden said that “for a nation the size of Israel [the October 7 attack], was like 15 9/11s,” but he appealed to them to learn from the mistakes of 2001.

There is a need to establish a reasonable and proportionate military objective. For Israel, it is to destroy the leaders and the infrastructure of Hamas. The West should lend its full support so Israel can be successful in this campaign, both to demonstrate solidarity and out of self-interest. In addition, the West should increase the pressure on Qatar for protecting the political leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniya. Someone who orders the deliberate killing of Jews cannot be blithely welcomed.

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