World War III has never been as imminent as it is now. What appears to have started as an act of resistance by Palestinians against ongoing aggression and abuse by an apartheid-Israeli regime has escalated to the dangerous level of a potential global war. The determining factor between war and relative peace resides in the actions of the US.
In the early hours of last Saturday, Hamas launched Operation al-Aqsa Flood. The strategic surprise attack on Israel comprised the firing of more than 5,000 rockets, and land and sea penetration into occupied territories. The scale of the operation marked an unprecedented intelligence failure on the side of Israel’s much-feared Aman, Mossad and Shabak. Despite rumours that foreign countries had shared intelligence that was ignored, it is apparent that the rumours are either false or, if true, the intelligence was scanty. Operation al-Aqsa Flood shattered apartheid Israel’s national security doctrine of deterrence, intelligence remonstrance, and military preparedness and superiority. It also exposed the weaknesses in their air defence system or Iron Dome.
The occupation regime resorted to lies, propaganda and censorship to cover up its ineptitude. Among others, stories of babies having been decapitated by Hamas were spread. Soon, Hamas, who is fighting a legitimate liberation struggle, was equated with the religious extremists, Isis. By the evening, following a declaration of war by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a flagrant statement that Gaza would be flattened, the strip was pounded with weapons and chemical weapons.
The Gaza Strip, which is 41km long and 6km to 12km wide, is densely populated with about two million people. Israel then cut off electricity, water and access to fuel, food and medication to the region.
Since October 7, more than 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza have died; more than 8,000 have been injured; more than 340,000 have been displaced; and thousands of buildings, including homes, universities and hospitals, were destroyed. Al-Alam and Press TV journalists have been assassinated, and several media centres in Gaza have been destroyed. Eleven UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA) staff members also lost their lives in the shelling. Some died in their homes with their families.
The notorious Israeli intelligence often thwarted resistance well before it started, and/or the perpetrators were swiftly captured or assassinated. The sophistication of Operation al-Aqsa Flood, which has succeeded in roping multiple Palestinian forces, has resulted in groundbreaking sustainability of resistance. The aggression is being rivalled to such measures that after 48 hours of battle, all flights to and from Israel had to be stopped.
The US could have chosen to be a peace broker by empathising with the conditions that led to the large-scale resistance. Instead, President Joe Biden deviated from his stance that he had in his younger years and vehemently denounced the rights of Palestinians to resist. While ironically emphasising apartheid Israel’s right to self-defence, implying that Palestinians’ lives were less important, he pledged more military assistance for Israel, which already receives $3.8 billion a year in US military aid.
Demonstrating this commitment, a plane carrying ammunition and equipment to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Furthermore, the US navy dispatched the USS Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean. The strike group is comprised of the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78), with its eight squadrons of attack and support aircraft, the Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers (DDG 51), USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116), USS Ramage (DDG 61), USS Carney (DDG 64), USS Roosevelt (DDG 80), and thousands of soldiers. The carrier group is being augmented with the Air Force F-35 in addition to the F-15, F-16 and A-10 fighter aircraft and the approximately 30,000 troops already in the region. A second carrier stands ready to be deployed.
This exaggerated show of force by the US in the region is cause for concern. Hamas’s offensive is asymmetrical. Unlike Israel, it has no air force, navy or military.
The blatant, excessive US presence is unjustifiable and prompts the question of why? The Biden administration has put much effort into influencing dynamics in the region. They shifted from the overt, post-9/11 militaristic approach of the Obama and Trump administrations. The withdrawal from Afghanistan and the initial engagements with Iran around its nuclear programme are demonstrations of this shift in tactics. However, protecting their primary ally in the region remained essential. Therefore, they prioritised building on Trump’s Abraham Accord and focusing on normalising diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab states, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Morocco. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken participated in the Negev Summit in Sde Boker, Israel, in March last year as part of this process. The summit brought together foreign ministers of the US, Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the UAE. Furthermore, the US engineered the Aqaba, Jordan and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, talks between apartheid Israel and Palestinians earlier this year.
Realising that the Middle East remains vital to the global economy and energy market, the US decided to emulate the Chinese Belt-and-Road Initiative and initiated selective bilateral and multilateral engagements. The heads of government of India, Israel, the UAE, and the US (I2U2) convened the first meeting of the I2U2 group on July 14 last year. The group focuses on joint investments and new water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security initiatives. Furthermore, the US focused on enhancing its relationship with the Gulf Co-operating Council. In the same month, Biden attended the Jeddah Security and Development Summit. Other attendees included Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as well as Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan (together known as the GCC+3).
Even as the Biden administration sought to shift its approach to the Middle East from militaristic to being more developmental, it retained a presence in Iraq and Syria.
In addition, it continued to engage in joint military exercises with Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain in the Red Sea. January saw the second iteration of Red Sands training exercises between the US and Saudi Arabia, which included employing various kinetic and non-kinetic techniques to destroy or disable Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). From August 31 to September 14, the US Central Command and Egypt facilitated Bright Star 2023, the oldest multilateral military exercise in the Middle East and Africa, having first occurred in 1980.
Despite US efforts, they have not been able to gain control over the region. Relations between Jordan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been re-established with Syria. In May this year, Syria was readmitted into the Arab League. In August, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were invited to form part of BRICS plus. Operation al-Aqsa Flood makes a mockery of their interventions related to Israel. And within the broader geopolitical sphere, the US-Nato-Ukraine-proxy war is a failure. The emergence of a multi-polar world order is becoming increasingly probable, thereby increasing the volatility and desperation of the US.
It is feared that Operation al-Aqsa Flood might provide the US with the long-desired opportunity to deal with the “Axis of resistance” once and for all. Any such aggression will definitely ignite a conflict of global proportions.
Already, there are efforts to provoke Lebanon and Syria into joining the conflict. Biden’s warning about external interference and the heavy presence of the US military imply that they will intervene should Lebanon and Syria come to the assistance of Palestine. The Nato defence ministers, through Jens Stoltenberg, have also pledged that Israel will not stand alone, inferring a willingness to engage in military combat.
The millions of corpses in the region testify to the devastation that the US-Israeli-Nato alliance can sow. Therefore, Hezbollah has been careful in its response to date, only acting within occupied Lebanese territory. Likewise, Syria has primarily relied on its air defence to manage the Israeli attacks from occupied Golan, including the bombing of Damascus and Aleppo airports this month. Neither country wants to be drawn into further war.
However, both have vigorously defended the right of the people of Palestine to resist and indicated a preparedness to fight should the US enter the conflict more prominently.
The primary target of the US and Israel, namely Iran, also wishes to avoid a war in the region. However, it is already participating in plans for an emergency session for the heads of the councils of member states of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation. The meeting will discuss the repercussions of the apartheid-Israel aggression on Gaza and how best to provide humanitarian support.
Ideally, it would be preferred that the US latches on to and promotes the Arab Peace Initiative. We have witnessed the human, social and economic costs of the Ukraine-Russian conflict. An extension thereof is undesirable. We, particularly the world’s leaders, must wake up to what the US is dragging us into and make greater efforts to resist it.
*Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security and is based in Damascus, Syria
**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL