Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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The Challenge Facing Biden in the Middle East.


Ivo Daalder, who previously served as the United States ambassador to NATO, now leads as CEO of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and is also the host of the podcast “World Review with Ivo Daalder” that airs weekly.

President Joe Biden’s recent trip to Israel aimed to show support for the country, prevent further escalation of the conflict in Gaza, and address concerns about the strategy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet. However, before departing, the devastating bombing of al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday night brought these objectives into doubt.

The explosion resulted in the death of almost 500 people and left hundreds more injured. This highlighted the growing concern for a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which had overshadowed the collective outrage and sadness over the recent terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians.

The intense anger among Arab citizens has increased the chances of a further rise in tension. Jordan’s leader King Abdullah II, who had previously cautioned that the Middle East was on the verge of chaos, called off a planned meeting with Biden in Amman on Thursday and declared a three-day mourning period.

As time passes, it is becoming more difficult to overlook the flaws in Israel’s approach to dealing with Hamas’ violent actions.

The current situation in the Middle East calls for a fresh approach that tackles the underlying problems revealed by the recent tragic events, while also safeguarding Israel’s security from future threats.

Despite being uncertain about whether he should travel to Israel following the unexpected shift in events, Biden ultimately chose to proceed with the trip, aiming to find a way to improve the rapidly worsening circumstances. Upon reaching his destination, he reiterated the same words that had earned him widespread admiration among Israelis after the October 7 attacks: “I have a simple message for Israel: You are not alone.”

Biden has promised to deliver a never-before-seen aid package for Israel to the U.S. Congress before the end of the week. He reaffirmed his strong support for the Jewish state during his visit and emphasized his determination to prevent the situation from getting worse. He had previously ordered the Pentagon to send two large aircraft carriers to the Eastern Mediterranean, station 2,000 Marines offshore, and have an additional 2,000 troops ready for deployment.

He subsequently reiterated a message to Iran and any other potential enemies contemplating an attack on Israel: “Do not. Do not. Do not.”

Biden urged Netanyahu’s administration to allow immediate entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, which they reluctantly agreed to, with the condition that none of it would go to Hamas. However, due to the current crisis caused by Israel’s attacks and blockade, the limited supplies that do enter Gaza will likely only meet the most urgent needs.

The US president likely posed challenging inquiries to Israel’s war council during their private meeting. He later emphasized that the pursuit of justice, as the US has experienced, is not simple. He stated, “While we strived for justice and achieved it, we also made errors.” He acknowledged that success demands intentionality, difficult questioning, clear objectives, and an honest evaluation of whether the chosen path will lead to achieving those objectives.

Biden chose not to dictate to Israel. However, his statement indicates that he has concerns regarding the direction its government is taking – and he is correct.

Israel’s main challenge is the effectiveness of its response strategy to the horrific killing of over 1,300 of its citizens. It is unlikely to be successful in defeating Hamas without causing significant harm to innocent civilians. Additionally, the issue of governance in Gaza after the conflict remains unresolved. These pressing questions have yet to be addressed.

It is uncertain if the vast bombing operation, the most significant in Israel’s history against Gaza, will effectively eradicate Hamas. Many of its leaders are not currently in Gaza. Furthermore, the highly anticipated ground attack is unlikely to be successful, unless the goal is to completely remove the population from the territory – an action that no one in Israel is proposing.

Israel’s objective is to restore deterrence, and the air strikes have likely achieved this. However, it is crucial to note that the events on October 7 were not primarily a result of deterrence failure, but rather a significant error in Israel’s operations and intelligence.

The government shifted its attention away from the main issue and instead focused on the West Bank, due to the increasing confrontations between local residents and aggressive settlers. Israeli intelligence made a mistaken assumption that Hamas had shifted their priorities towards governing Gaza rather than attacking Israel.

Collectively, this indicates the need to change attention in the Middle East and create a fresh approach to address the fundamental problems exposed by this destructive conflict.

One issue to address is the danger presented by Iran and other groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, who claim to be part of a “resistance axis.” Their goal is to destroy Israel, and we must prevent them from achieving it. The United States, Europe, and other countries should collaborate with Israel to weaken this axis and prevent them from causing more harm. This can include implementing sanctions, sharing intelligence, and actively opposing Iran’s harmful actions in the region and globally.

Furthermore, it is crucial to prioritize the reconciliation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which was already a top priority for President Biden, but has become even more pressing. These two influential nations in the area must come together to combat Iran and extremism by establishing a normalized relationship. The U.S. must take action to facilitate this goal.

The Palestinian situation can no longer be disregarded. It is crucial to prioritize making a new attempt to find a resolution, which can only be achieved through a two-state solution.

This presents a significant challenge for any president and administration, particularly for those facing domestic political issues and pressing international obligations. However, its significance warrants the selection of a skilled and trusted special envoy, such as former President Bill Clinton, who previously prioritized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

Regardless of the specifics, it is crucial to make a significant change in direction now, before a larger disaster occurs.